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Nastarana 01-31-2010 04:33 PM

best system for senior classical music listener
I am now retired and would like to enjoy my classical CD and LP collection. I have spent a lifetime listening on inferior equipment.

I know almost nothing about the new components that are now in the market. I can spend up to about $5-6000 for all components. I would like to be able to listen to CDs and LPs on equipment which is not too demanding to use, offers the best possible sound quality for the budget and is likely to last a long time. I do not want to have to replace components anytime soon.

Sound quality is the priority for classical music. Even someone with an average ear for music, like me, can tell the difference between good, indifferent and excellent sound quality.

I am also considering buying the new Cowon S9 MP3 player. I have never owned an MP3.

My system will need to play CDs, LPs, and let me hook up the MP3 player with the best sound possible for the budget. I don't think I need surround sound (do I?). I don't plan to convert CDs to audio files. Hooking up a TV or other video or DVD player is not a priority.

Whiat kinds of components do I need, and what are the best in my price range?

I would be most grateful for, and will diligently research, all suggestions.

starvinmarvin 02-04-2010 05:21 PM

Re: best system for senior classical music listener
Your best bet is to find a good audio store and go visit them. Take along a couple of your favorite LPs and a couple of CDs, too. Maybe phone them up first to set up a convenient time.

Now, here's the thing. A really good hi-fi dealership will have components from modest prices right up to very very expensive. They will also work with you to find the right system for you within your price range without pushing you to spend thousands more. They will know which amplifiers work well with which speakers, and so on. This helps narrow down the choices to a sensible shortlist.

You may find what you're looking for right away, or you may want to visit a couple more times before deciding. Your final, final decision should be made after listening at home, if possible. Stay focused on sound quality, and don't let yourself be swayed by huge discounts on this or that item. Remember, it's only a heck of a deal if you love listening to it year in and year out. If you want to brag about what a great deal you got on price, go to Costco!

OK, here comes the lecture: An audio system is a chain made up of links (such as CD player, amplifier, speakers and all the connecting cables and speaker wires). A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The "source" component, i.e. the turntable or CD player is usually the weakest link. Don't be afraid to allocate a substantial portion of your budget to the source components. Starting with a fancy, pricey pair of speakers and working backwards will not, repeat NOT, get the most musical enjoyment into your ears. In fact, it could well be the other way around. I consider the Linn LP12 turntable as the cornerstone of a great-sounding system.

As you are a classical music lover you will undoubtedly appreciate the open, natural sound of planar speakers such as Magnepans. Check out their entry-level models on up, but stay under $1999 a pair. Electrostatic loudspeakers may be even nicer but are probably not within your price range. In conventional box-shaped speakers, a longtime favorite brand is B&W from England, which are known for their smooth unexaggerated sound. There are, of course, many other good ones. You might check these brands' websites to see if they have a dealer within striking distance of where you live.

Nastarana 02-05-2010 11:20 AM

Re: best system for senior classical music listener
Thank you for the most informative response.

I had been thinking of visiting a good audio store as you suggest. I mostly listen to vocal music, both songs and opera and to chamber music and baroque. I am not really a symphony listener, and I am afraid the huge works of the late 19thC, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, etc., leave me cold. It is important to me to be able clearly to hear the entire range of the human voice, from coloratura soprano, to all the overtones of voices like Pavarotti and Florez, to the gravelly notes of Christoph. I am finding that while my budget set from Walmart, Sony from abour 1995, is acceptable if not excellent in the middle range, I am not hearing high or low very well. Bass-baritone voices (think Louis Armstrong, or Boris Christoph) all tend to sound alike, for example.

Also, for baroque music listening, and I am an enthusiast for that period, it is important to distinguish the different instruments used. Baroque composers did not compose for huge orchestras, so I would not want a wall of sound effect. My second favorite part of the classical repertoire is opera of the bel canto period, so I need clearly to be able to hear all the vocal ornaments, purotechniques, shadings used by singers in that repertoire, as well as the orchestral accompaniment. (Don't get me started on how Verdian singers should stick to Verdi and similar repertoire and not attempt Rossini!)

I do appreciate "the lecture". I have been reading online that one should start with the speakers, and work back from them. It did sound somewhat counterintuitive, so I am glad to have my intuition confirmed.

Linn turntables are available on ebay for around $US1000. How important are cables and other connectors? I gather that any old cable from the 99cents store will not do?

starvinmarvin 02-06-2010 11:20 AM

Re: best system for senior classical music listener
"Linn turntables are available on ebay for around $US1000. How important are cables and other connectors? I gather that any old cable from the 99cents store will not do?"

Check with your audio dealer first to see if they have a used Linn LP12 available. In any case, be sure to have an authorized Linn guy check it over and set it up correctly for you. A mid-price arm and moving-coil cartridge should bring a lot of musical nuance and inner clarity of both voice and instruments.

Interconnect cables and speaker wires are definitely important. Just don't spend a huge proportion of your total budget on them. One good brand that helps the clarity come through without shrillness or harshness is Transparent Audio. Again, check their website to see if there's a dealer anywhere near you. There are, of course, other fine brands of interconnects and speaker wire. Let your dealer guide you on this.

I discovered a long, long time ago that some audio components, especially (but not limited to) speakers, are geared towards rock music listeners. Bass ripples across the floor and kicks you in the solar plexus while high-hat cymbals smack you right between the eyebrows. Very exciting! What's not exciting is how a violin or soprano voice sounds on a system like that - excruciating! What you want is balance; the keyword is "neutral". Obviously, if your stereo exaggerates one part of the music it usually does so at the expense of something else.

Remember, you want to happily live with the sound for many years. Something initially impressive may be tiring to listen to at home. So give yourself time to feel confident in your choices.

Whereabouts do you live, anyway? If it's California, this web page may be a starting point to locate a good dealer:

Nastarana 02-06-2010 09:13 PM

Re: best system for senior classical music listener
I presently live in CA, in the central valley, but am moving at the end of this month to upstate NY, where my daughter and grandchildren live. The closest stores which sell LInn are in San Jose and Fresno. I probably will not buy in CA because of moving expenses, but I am researching now.

I am not a city dweller, and will probably be looking for a house in one of the towns and villages in NY. How far afield are "authorized Linn" technicialns willing to travel? Naturally I would expect to pay the person for their time and trouble, but are they even willing to make rural house calls?

starvinmarvin 02-07-2010 12:57 AM

Re: best system for senior classical music listener
Don't ship a turntable across the country to New York if you can avoid it. Wait until you settle in somewhere then search for your new system in earnest. I'm sure a good Linn dealer can arrange to get your turntable set up for you, especially if you happen to be buying several components of your new system from him! That's probably not strictly necessary but, again, the idea is to have a setup where the whole is greater, musically speaking, than the sum of its parts. Quantity does not equal quality here, so trust your ears and don't assume you must have big speakers or a zillion watts-per-channel.

I have a rather enjoyable 1958 EMI recording of Rossini's Il Barbiere with Gobi and Callas. During that nice little ditty "Una voce poco fa..." the lady hits a couple of notes which can lay bare a tweeter with an uneven response. On a well regarded large pair of floor-standing speakers costing around $5,000 per pair you could literally hear the tweeter breaking up with unnatural harshness and crackle. The same aria played on a $500 pair of bookshelf B&W speakers had Callas nearly bringing me to my feet with her rendition. Ah, Maria, when you were bad (dare I say frequently?) you were truly awful, and when you were good you were a delight. However, the $1600 Magnepans (MG 1.6 maybe?) actually placed the singers on the stage in front of me. And my old pair of Quad ESLs? Mmm, sheer magic!

OK, enough rambling. You get the idea ...........

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