There is a lot to know about choosing a stereo system in which each component is well-matched to the others in the chain, as well as matching both the room and your listening preferences. What follows is a brief introduction to get you pointed in the right direction.
When selecting a new high performance stereo system, we usually suggest that you start with the speakers. Speaker preference is highly individual. No speaker is perfect in all respects for all rooms, no matter how expensive or how goodand different speakers excel in different performance areas. By thinking about your priorities, you can choose the speaker that performs best in the areas most important to you. You might consider:
When choosing a speaker, we suggest that you do your speaker auditioning in an acoustically neutral room, such as we have in our Waltham listening facility. In-home listening evaluations can be very helpful too, particularly if you have either a good sounding room or a room that you won't be changing for a while. If you might be moving or improving the room, be careful that you don't choose a speaker which minimizes the problems in your room, rather than maximizes the speaker's potentialas you might regret your choice later.
With the speakers chosen, you can next turn your attention to matching a power amplifier to them. The type of music that you listen to, how loud you listen, the distance from you to the speakers, and the size of the room will influence the power requirement that the speaker will impose on the amplifier. For many situations, 50 to 100 watts / channel (RMS, 8 ohms, both channels driven, low distortion) will sufficealthough often larger, more expensive amplifiers may have more heft, control, and refinement to the sound. When comparing them, you may find that amplifiers sound remarkably different from each other. Often the matching preamplifier from the same manufacturer will complement the power amplifier best.
And of course, you might choose an integrated amplifier that combines a power amplifier and a preamplifier in a single chassis. At lower price levels, a high-end integrated amplifier may provide the best sound because of the cost efficiencies of combining the enclosure, power supply, and so forth. However, you may find it somewhat more difficult to upgrade your system later with an integrated amp. And beyond a certain point separates are the preferred way to go.
Next, consider your source components. Most music lovers today own a high-quality CD player, as many new recordings are available only on CD. However, many wonderful old recordings (and even some new ones) are available only on LP. We suggest that you buy sources for whatever recordings you love to listen to.
You may wish to consider other sources such as a high resolution music server coupled with an outboard D-A converter. You should know that currently there are only a limited number of high resolution titles and it may be awhile before there is any real library of high resolution recordings available. However all of your present library of CD's and DVD-A's can be ported to a high resolution music server so it is a viable option for many people at this time.
You may also wish to integrate your desktop or laptop computer as a source. This can be accomplished by using the DAC of your existing CD player (if it has an input) or one of the fine DAC's designed with this in mind such as the Alpha DAC from Berkeley Audio Design or the Linn DS.
Another potential source is an SACD player, which are available for either stereo or surround music systems. SACD is viable as a niche format, but will only ever have a limited number of recordings available. However we can recommend an SACD player if you are comfortable with the array of titles already availableand of course more titles may continue to be released but the selection will still be limited.
Your system will need cabling to connect the components together. Cables influence the final sound of your system, often to a surprising degree. We suggest that you choose your cables to complement the sonics of the rest of your components. The best-matched cables may make the difference between good performance and stunning performance. With our familiarity with the products that we carry, we can recommend well-matched cables to simplify your search. Even if your system contains components that we don't sell, we might have experience with your components and be able to help.
Your system will need a homean audio stand of some sort. The furniture must accommodate the width, depth, and height of each of your components and perhaps possible future additions. Some components require open space around them (or forced air ventilation) to keep cool. Overheating will shorten the life of your components. Also, some components can benefit from a stable, anti-resonate surface thus allowing them to function optimally. Turntables and tube equipment are usually quite sensitive to mechanical vibration, however you may find sensitivity in CD transports and solid state electronics as well. Some types of audio furniture incorporate extensive anti-vibrational design elements.
And last, the acoustics of your listening room will strongly influence your system's performance. Think of the air in the room as the final interconnect between the speakers and your ears. To get the best possible sound, you'll need acoustic room treatment. We can even help you build a dedicated listening room, if you'd like.
Whether you are searching for a new system or upgrading an existing system, our suggestion is to carefully consider what you would like to achieve and then to talk to us. No matter how much expertise you have, or don't have, we can be of great assistance to you in assembling the system of your dreams!
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