Source First?

radio, tape, stands and accessories
DaveMillier
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Post by DaveMillier » 27 Sep 2008 20:29

scorchin34 wrote:Hi Dave,
Interesting point but you leave wondering, why does the bottom of the range sound the same as the top?? Why bother having a range consisting of different price points if they are all to sound the same???

Peace,
Preston
I asked that (rather, I asked why would anyone fork out a fortune of a Krell or a Mark levinson if the cheapest NAD was just the same). He said bigger amps go a bit louder and some people need that and lots of expensive speakers are so badly designed that they require big amps to work at all.

I wasn't about to gainsay a bloke with over 20 best selling amp designs on his CV...

Alec124c41
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Post by Alec124c41 » 27 Sep 2008 20:44

He's right in that if you have a line of good amps, bigger is not necessarily better. He had a line of good amps.
I know that I have no need for bigger amps than what I have. My speakers are reasonably efficient, and if my meters are touching 50 watts my neighbors are listening to my music and my ears are in danger. Most of my listening is at 1 watt or lower, occasionally getting up to 10 watts.
I also know that I don't really want electronics that you have to warm up for 3 days before you can listen to them - or even 45 minutes.
If I were running Magnepans, or playing music in a public place, I might need to use more wattage, so there is a reason for a range of amps. But I have to agree with the pro.

Alec

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Post by Guest » 27 Sep 2008 22:26

Interesting......amps do make a difference or don't they? Yes. Some observant points made. As I think I mentioned. lots of expensive speakers tend to need lots of watts due to different design philosophies. Not necessarily bad per se, just different lines of thought. Inefficiency is only bad if you consider needing lots of watts is bad. Bad isn't a term I'd use. Inefficient is. Simple high efficiency speakers only need minimal wattage to go loud, but the real cost inside those expensive amps is often the power supply. You can't over-emphasise the importance. Its a bit like comparing horsepower figures of car engines with torque figures. Wattage being the horsepower and torque being the ability to maintain that power for transients.

It is worth sourcing a good amp, one with a decent power supply to maintain transient load demands. Pre-power units give you more oomph (not volume, just headroom which creates improved dynamic scale and more effortless at that) than lesser powered offerings. Integrateds can do this as well without needing heaps of wattage. Nad recognised the need for maintaining transient power for longer than the industry standard 20 millisecs so never rated their amps in the same way as most. A Nad 20 watter always sounded so much more beefy than almost any other equivalent. They were designed to maintain peak levels without clipping for significantly longer than others, and many valve amps do this too due to the beefy power supplys (its not all in the soft nature of valve distortion guys).

I have an interesting practical test for my own valve amp. I notice that just before distortion occurs, the blue halo around the valve elements flickers, so drive up to this level then back off a bit, knoing I'm not into severe overload, then listen. The amp when sustaining bass or treble extremes excells at sustaining decay of notes or grip on bass without the blue valve flicker, a feat that no 40 watt integrated SS has managed with similar tracks , so I put this down to the design and quality of the power supply. I may stand corrected if one of our more erudite members can explain this.

All of this still doesn't mean that the amp is more important than the source or the speakers, just that it has to be capable of driving whatever speakers you choose, be it efficient horn loaded ones or less efficient small boxes. Wattage dear folks, wattage (or should that be "voltage"?).

Sound quality itself is best determined by the source (components) and realised by the speakers. Thats the very best way to think about system matching, and perhaps my humble offering for a definitive answer to the thread question.

Alec124c41
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Post by Alec124c41 » 28 Sep 2008 02:11

I think you are spot on with the power supply. The Yamaha CR-800 had a lighter power supply than the CR-1020, or even the CR-820, and you can hear it. And the power supply in the Mission amp is great, so it punches above its weight. Actually, that power supply is what makes it so heavy.

Alec

missan
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Post by missan » 28 Sep 2008 11:08

Bigears.
PSUs are important, and so are many designdetails in a SS amp. If we don´t use badly designed speakers with very low inpedance, and if we don´t use all power, the PSUs don´t have any major influence on the sound quality. In my experience, the voltage gain stages are much more important in how the amp will sound. FI voltage stability, the design of NF and components used have a major effect.

We must not think that the PSU is the reason why two different amps have not the same frequency response or transient response.
At normal listening levels it´s much more likely that both have limitations in their voltage gain stages, and that one has even more limitations. Many amps use caps for negative feedback, that are highly influencing the sound.
I have found , in the amps I have looked into, that at normal listening levels, the quality of the sound is to a major extent depending on the design of the voltage gain stages.

missan

Baptist999
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Post by Baptist999 » 28 Sep 2008 13:11

Wow :!:
Lots to think about there.
Good job I still enjoy the sound of my current amp as it's still going to take a while to make sure of my pending new amp purchase.
Whilst my AE Aegis 3's aren't a serious load for any amp (managed to sound pretty loud with a friends 10w valve amp!), I have no doubt that my 16 year old amp is the weak link in my system.
I have to agree with the thoughts of several members about the current power supply and that it's not critical unless you are running at or near the design limits.
I have to confess I know nothing about voltage gain stages but I believe that as long as I'm not running an amp at "full chat" then it'll be performing at it's best.
Therefore whilst my present 45 w rms is plenty loud enough I've been looking at something with more power so as not to be running quite so "hot"!
It was very interesting to hear about the NAD amp designer.
I may be missing something here but it does make me wonder how the hifi press can wax lyrical about some amps and not others that are sometimes of seemingly similar construction.

Many thanks to all of you for your thoughts so far!

Cheers :D

missan
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Post by missan » 28 Sep 2008 13:57

If You feel that You now and then use a little to much power, I believe it´s a good idea to look at something with a little more power in reserve.
At some point many designs switch from total four power transistors to total eight. Personally I would go for eight.
missan

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Post by Guest » 28 Sep 2008 17:29

Whilst I agree that the voltage gain stages and also how the feedback is generated will influence the sound, it would have to be a relatively poorly designed amp that suffered noticeable colourations in general use here and I do actually put more credence in the PSU, all things being equal.

This without a doubt is the single-most expensive item in most top flight amps and with good reason. Your amp may only draw 1 watt for most of the time, with decent speakers, but the transition between quiet and loud passages, or to provide well extended low bass notes requires not only the provision of adequate power, but for that power to be sustained long enough. Voltage gain stages do just that, they boost the signal voltage, but dont forget that the power supply is the most important factor for sustaining peaks generated via the voltage gain stage, and this is very noticeable if you compare two similarly rated amps side by side, with one having the superior PSU, its hugely noticeable.

I'm a convert to valves not because I think they're better at music making than SS, indeed, the best amp I've heard was a SS design. No, I'm a convert because my current valve amp has very well design gain stages but more importantly to me, it has a wonderfully made and very beefy PSU.

I will concede though that the quality of the caps in the output stages also has quite an influencial bearing on sound quality of most amps, including pre-amps and it often pays to have these upgraded at some stage in the AMP's life. However, when buying an amp, I always try to learn about the quality of its PSU as this is as important to me than its rated wattage, as there's 40 watt amps, and oh boy, there's 40 WATT amps!

missan
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Post by missan » 28 Sep 2008 18:44

I have a power amp with only two output devises that sounds much better than the company's products with multiple transistors, Adcom 535II. (Although I'm not currently using it)
My fault, I was beeing to general. There will always be exceptions, even if most of the time it´s true.
missan

Umberto Vanni
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Post by Umberto Vanni » 28 Sep 2008 21:30

I wouldn't go with the source first principal personally. I have done some experiments with cheap and expensive CD players and cheap and expensive speakers. Biggest difference was noticed when the speakers were changed.

My speakers arent cheap and the biggest difference i've heard when upgrading has been when i buy new speakers.

This is all IMO. Not sure if it stacks up with TTs though as i havent been able to test it with a cheaper and a more expensive TT.

natty_dredd
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Post by natty_dredd » 03 Dec 2008 21:18

Just remember that you have to look at the speakers more often....

Abandonflip
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Post by Abandonflip » 04 Dec 2008 20:21

You will have to excuse me folks, because I have come to this thread late and (to be honest) I haven't read in detail what has been said.

Anyhow, my view is that 'balance' is required. Don't get me wrong - personally I am an advocate of the 'source first / garbage in, garbage out' doctrine, but this is for kids. When buying your first system it is wise to ensure that the audio chain is not compromised by the source, and that you can build on the source with future upgrades, helping to get the most from your system.

However, I recently had a conversation with someone who had bought a single component that made a complete mess of his system. What appeared to be an upgrade turned out only to expose the failings in just about every other component - and this was a power amp.

Extricating yourself from such a situation can be both difficult and expensive.

I suppose what I am saying is that there are no guarantees that paying the most you can for any particular component is the route to nirvana. Careful system matching is crucial if you are a) not to move backwards and b) not have to spend huge amounts of money making everything else match one part of your system.

cfraser
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Post by cfraser » 04 Dec 2008 21:38

^ That is so true! You buy one new component that affects everything (pre/amp/speakers) and suddenly the sources are revealed as deficient. So you buy better sources, then a "deficiency" in the pre/amp/speakers is revealed. It's a never-ending game... The only way to be "satisfied", have nothing stand out, is to buy all crap and have all detail obscured so that just the "tune" and basic substance of the recording is heard. Many people are perfectly happy with that, and we probably were too as children. It's when you become interested in music per se, and want to hear the intricacies, that you are doomed.

I could never understand this "source first" philosophy. It was largely promoted by one decent audio mag (UHF here in Canada). I always presumed this was because sources were "sexier" and much more intricate and ever-changing technically than the downstream gear. Thus offering much more marketing opportunity.

Do I want to hear a fabulous source through a crappy amp and speakers? Of course not. And if I was listening that way, how would I know the source is so good? So I have to presume they were in fact promoting good downstream gear, but were really saying the source has to be good too, GIGO. So IMO "source first" is more about marketing than a method of improving the overall sound of your system.

Notice how little "print" room treatment gets. Quite possibly the biggest sound bang for your money. Not nearly sexy enough, and not something Joe Blow can buy at the audio supermarket, and just plunk in a room. Way too hard to market, and once you buy it and do it right, no need to "upgrade" until you move house. Can't have that, gotta keep the marketing gears grinding...imagine a product you only have to buy once, the "audiophile" system would collapse.

MonkeyBoy
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Post by MonkeyBoy » 01 Jan 2009 21:52

My turn--I had the luxury of buying most of my stereo in a short period (one month of testing with my ears, not my wallet or specs sheets) and I started with buying the pre amp first and then fitting everything with it. The reason is that it is the traffic cop of the whole system. And yes, amps do have their own sound, all of them. What I wound up with is a system that is as neutral and lively a system as I could afford that I am very happy with. Even if I won the lottery, I doubt I would change any of the pieces I bought.

As for the inefficiency of speakers, I had always thought that part of it was a matter of large voice coils and large magnets. My understanding is that they tend to make for tighter, more lifelike sound reproduction than smaller units. Is this correct? The large masses simply need more power to drive them. My speakers are pretty inefficient, but I love their musical presentation. (1 WRMS/90dbs/1 meter) They also have a lower impedance simply because they require a good bit of power before they reach that stage where it sounds like Janis Ian is in my house singing for me. They may not be that loud, but what presence!

starterwiz
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Post by starterwiz » 20 Jan 2009 01:17

I always take the "amp last" approach when designing any system that is built within a budget. The electro/mechanical components (speakers, cartridges) tend to have several magnitudes higher levels of distortion than purely electrical devices.

Typical distortion levels for loudspeakers range from 1% to 5% or more at 1 Watt, and much more at higher levels. Most speaker manufactures won't specify distortion specs at all.
Likewise specs on phono cartridges tend to get only so good before they top out.
Seperation specs on a typical "good' cart might be 40dB or so, as opposed to the same spec on an amp easily achieving 80 dB or better.

A balance is important. A really good amp/speaker combo will reveal the poor sound of a cheap cart/table, and inversely a really good source might get lost in a lesser set of speakers.
However in any system designed within any given budget, the largest "gain/$$" is usually found in those with improved "ends".

That being said, I caution anyone against over-spending on any particular area, with a plan towards eventually upgrading the rest.

I started with my Linn, and a pair of LS-35A, and then promptly sired two children, before I could finish buying my amp, pre-amp, and subwoofer.
Eighteen long years later, I was finally able to replace my Realistic receiver with a decent amp, and add a sub to the mix.
I had $4500 worth of nice stuff that sounded like crap for a lot of years.