HIGH-END AUDIO on a BUDGET: Getting The Very Best HiFi-Sound at the Least Possible Cost.

Klipschorn | Source
ARC SP8 (or LS3)
ARC SP8 (or LS3) | Source
Vintage Ampex Amps
Vintage Ampex Amps | Source
Thorens TD125/SME/Sonata (Linn above).
Thorens TD125/SME/Sonata (Linn above). | Source


by W.A.J.

When it comes to high-end audio, it is best to buy used equipment if what you seek is the best value, and best quality sound, for your money. This is something the manufacturers, distributors, and mainstream audio magazines will never tell you. But it's absolutely true. Even if you're rich, this statement is still relevant.

Here's another tip; used classics hold their value like good gold - new gear depreciate in value like butter under the sun.

Why? Well, used gear will have already settled at the price you bought them for, the classics even appreciate in value. Therefore, having bought such gear you're unlikely to lose much, if anything, when you decide to sell after years of use. New gear, however, generally lose approximately 25 to 35% of their re-sale value the moment you start using them, and that's for starters.

Bear in mind, also, that owners of genuine high-end gear usually treat them as well as they do their spouses. So quality is virtually assured when such gear is re-sold. And despite what some may claim, there's, generally, not much to gain (sonically) and a lot to lose (monetarily) by buying brand-new equipment, especially when disappointment leads to a quick re-sale.

I know those are strong words, very controversial too, and I can just imagine the howls of derision this would cause in certain circles.

Mainstream audio-magazines, for instance, would like to have you believe that there are earth-shattering breakthroughs in high-end audio every month their mags hit the streets. They perpetrate, and perpetuate, this fallacy with rave-reviews of the best-ever this, or the best-ever that, on a regular basis. Every month we're confronted with a new 'best-ever', only for it to be eclipsed the very next month by the latest 'best'. This is what sells magazines and keeps their advertisers (manufacturers/distributors) happy - to the detriment of the consumer. Audiophiles are encouraged to join the circus in 'upgrading' their equipment every few years - even months. To each, his own. I take a different view.

I'm certainly not saying that there haven't been advancements in audio over many years. I'm definitely saying, though, that these advancements are far fewer, and of much less magnitude, than some would have us believe. Let's just look at a few cold, hard facts:

The Great 'Advancements' in Audio

The very best digital components [from Red-Book (CD) to Blue-ray] despite ALL their advancements, are still sonically inferior to good analogue turntables (you don't even need the better, or the best, turntables to annihilate most digital competition). Of course, digital is great, absolutely. But analogue is still the best - today. That's just the stark, unadulterated reality!

Turntables, themselves, have been subject to many 'advancements' over the years, so much so that some claim prices of over $100,000. Yet there are idler-wheel-drive turntables from the 50's/60's which, when slightly modified with better plinths/bases, are sonically competitive with, and even superior to, many of their their mega-buck descendants. Seasoned audiophiles are increasingly becoming aware of this. Stereophile magazine's Art Dudley, for instance, a long-time Linn Sondek user/fan has now forsaken the Linn (which, today costs way over $10,000, fully accessorized) for an ancient Thorens TD124 because of its superior sound-quality. Many had preceded him in similar moves, and many more continue to do so. Arthur Salvatore of the web-zine, 'The Audio Critique', has also given up his very expensive and highly 'advanced' air-bearing Forsell turntable (modified for 'state of the art' performance) in favor of the better sound supplied by his 'new' antiquated idler-drive Lenco, with modified base and bearings. So much for all the 'advancements' those mags rave about, but let's not leave the topic just yet.

All of these advanced mega-buck turntables, and every other conceivable source-component, are also eclipsed in performance by antique reel to reel two-track/15 ips tape-machines which can't even be bought new anymore because they're out of production. And they were put out of production mainly because of all the great 'advancements', proclaimed by the magazines, in the inferior compact-cassette format. Where is that 'highly-advanced' cassette-player today? [For details of all these allegations please refer to other relevant articles on this site].

There is also overwhelming evidence that the better moving-magnet turntable cartridges (costing approx $500, more or less) are more natural, realistic, and 'master-tape like' than the so-called 'highly advanced' moving-coils which fetch prices of, up to and exceeding, $10,000.

For today's speakers, claims have been made of advancements in the areas of middle-midrange to high-frequency detail-resolution and pin-point stereo-imagery. And in this case, these claims are mostly true. But they're also guilty of neglecting other more important areas, and because of this they are woefully incompetent at replicating the realism of a live performance. In this regard, ancient designs such as Klipschorn and Tannoy reign supreme over their modern counterparts in so far as duplicating the 'full-bodied' tonality, dynamism, and overall realism of a live musical event. These are the only reasons these fifty-odd year-old designs are still in production, still relevant, and still highly respected by all who recognize their superior abilities at SONIC-REALISM!

Today's amplifiers and pre-amps, despite claims to the contrary, have made very little progress over their outstanding equivalents from the long distant-past. The better, and best, pre-amps from the 1980's-90's era (Audio-Research, Conrad-Johnson, Counterpoint, etc.) for instance, are still absolutely competitive with their 'highly-advanced' counterparts of today - even those from some of the same companies.

With regard to amplifiers, for example, the Audio-Critique web-zine's 'Vintage-Files' section carries a testimonial from a reader who owned $7,000+ Manley Neo-Classics and discovered they were comprehensively out-performed by a pair of ancient 1950s/60's Ampex 6973-tubed 22watt power-amps. Needless to say, he then sold the expensive Manley-Neos (at a significant loss, for sure) and reconditioned his 'new' Ampex relics for front-line duty in his audio-system. Similarly, the $4,000 ASL Hurricane has been hailed in high-end circles as a 'bargain' since it consistently equals or out-performs amps in the $10,000 to $20,000 price-bracket, and above. Yet, another reader from the same source also discovered that his Hurricane was similarly out-performed by a pair of tubed 50 watt Stromberg-Carlson AP-55's from the same era as the Ampex above. Since these revelations, the prices for these relics have escalated somewhat, but it's still possible to find similar giant-killers for less than a grand. Reconditioning with new capacitors and resistors, etc. would add to that figure, but not by much.

However, since those amps are tubed; let's just say that you appreciate the sonic qualities of tubes but, like many, you are reluctant to endure the hassles and expense of periodic tube replacement. Well, the good news is that one aspect of the few real advancements that have been made over the years is that some tube equipment are now closer to solid-state in the areas where solid-state traditionally excelled - and vice versa. So though the very best tube equipment still hold an advantage, in my opinion, some solid-state equipment now equal or surpass their general tube equivalents, overall, and also in the areas where tubes traditionally excelled. I speak from a basis of personal experience since a solid-state ARC LS3 pre-amp succeeded in fooling me into thinking it was a tubed component for several months after I'd bought it. This was because it sounded more tube-like than most tube-equipment I had been familiar with. The same is also true of a solid-state UREI 6150 power-amp I also use - it passively allows the tube-like qualities of the LS3 to prevail, without subtracing anything or adding any solid-state artifacts, as many others do. And it's better at this (among other things) than an undeservedly 'well-regarded' tubed Dynaco ST70 I once had lying around - marginally the least-accomplished tube-amp I'd owned, but representative of many.

This advancement of the narrowing of the gap between the better tube and solid-state gear actually commenced many years ago; the LS3, for instance, is of early to mid-nineties vintage, and the UREI precedes it. So it is possible to find tube-like solid-state gear today, at very reasonable prices on the used-market.

So what does one do with all this ground-breaking information? Well, one could actually build a world-class audio-system which sounds much much more realistic than most, for a fraction of the cost of most. That's, basically, what one could do, actually.

Building the Best Audio-System for the Money

Before looking at an example of this, I'll outline an example of the cost of its much more expensive, yet sonically inferior alternative bought new. But before doing even that, let's look at my take on an all-out state-of-the-art system, from my point of view, just to further illustrate my way of thinking, and how such a philosophy could be relevant even in the highest echelons of audio. I'm formulating this hypothetical system even as I write, but I'll bet it will not cost as much as $100,000. [That is: A complete audio-system (with several source-components) potentially capable of absolute state of the art performance, for LESS than the cost of ONE 'highly-advanced' turntable].

This proposed system will not be an amalgam of the most expensive brands conjured to impress the impressionable. That's much too easy. Moreover, for top-quality SOUND, you really don't NEED that sort of extravagance. So in this list you'll not find $1/4 mil Wlison WAMMs, or Goldmund's $300k turntable, nor will you find $300k-$600k amps from Wavac, Goldmund or Ultrasound. [The $1mil Grand Enigma speaker-array, for example, is simply ridiculous for the home, unless your 'listening-room' is as large as a large sports-arena. It's not one system, bye the way, but several speaker-systems stacked together]. No, my proposed state of the art audio-system will be unbelievably inexpensive, by comparison, and may even inspire amusement in the ignorant. But in terms of its potential to reproduce sonic realism, the system will be as serious as a heart-attack, and fully competitive with ANY conceivable system today, regardless of cost.

Absolute State of the Art SOUND On A Budget: Starting with the speakers, I'd use custom-built spherical horns similar to those of the Avantgarde Trio as a basis. Special attention would be given to the often neglected lower-midrange region to ensure realistic performance in this area - vintage KLH drivers could be ideal for this because of their uncommon abilities at the lower-mids. At mid-range, 7" Yamaha NS10 drivers could be used because of their clarity and accuracy in this region (likewise, at mid-bass too). Ultra-xpensive exotica such as ceramic drivers, and diamond-encrusted tweeters, are not necessary, in my opinion - there're others at the very top-echelon that don't utilize such exotica either. (Acapella's ion tweeter, however, is an option that would be beneficial in limited terms, but at its high cost we'd also examine alternatives. In the interim, an Altec compression driver would suffice admirably, in the overall scheme of things, especially since it betters most contenders in dynamism).

Dynamic realism thru high efficiency is the reason why horns would be used. Efficiencies above 100db/1w/1m would be targeted. Spherical-horns are the choice because of their apparent lack of colorations in the mids, compared to other horn types. In ensuring realistic dynamics AND realistic lower-mids we will have addressed the two major areas where most other systems, including most at the top-echelon, are severely compromised. (Even the few that are most efficient/dynamic also seem to neglect the lower-mids, sadly). Therefore in addressing BOTH these neglected areas (dynamism and lifelike-tonality) we will have gained a considerable advantage, over most alternatives, in portraying lifelike REALISM, at the very outset. The rest is, therefore, easy.

Sub-woofers would be a pair of vintage Goodmans 18" drivers in JBL-designed cabinets (known as ‘Scoops’ where I come from). Those are rear-loaded horns terminating in a semi-circular chute - for deep-bass. Two to four 7" Yamaha NS10 /woofers in a sealed enclosure would assist one Goodmans 15"er, per channel, in under-sized ‘scoops’ to supply mid-bass. That total DIY speaker-system should cost less than ten-grand, believe it or not. [I'm confident of the 'low' cost and high performance because, with the exception of the enclosure-design, the horn-bells, and the 15"inchers (double 8" inchers are presently used here) I've just described my own system, basically - see the article, 'DIY Speaker-Systems::...' for more on this. In lieu of horns, high-efficiency is currently ensured by doubling-up on some of these same mid-range/mid-bass drivers. The highly efficient drivers at treble and deep-bass (along with massive bass-reflex enclosures) ensure dynamism in these regions too].

For purity, no passive crossover-networks would be used. One channel each of three pairs of new Coincident Frankenstein 300B tubed 9watt power-amps would drive each of the three spherical horns (treble, mid, and lower-mid) per channel - $15,000 total. And two used UREI 6300 solid-state stereo power-amps would cover the four bass channels - used price; much less than $3,000. [Lower-powered tube-amps (perhaps four 50watt Stromberg-Carlsons) could instead be considered for duty here, depending on the requirements of the listener(s) and space]. The active crossover units (3&2-way) would perhaps be used tubed items from ARC costing $3,000, or slightly more..

New line-stage and phono pre-amps could also be tubed Coincident Statements, coincidentally, at a cost of $10,000 total. (All Coincidents quoted are adjudged to be at the 'edge of the art' in performance, despite their 'moderate' prices). Turntable could be a modified vintage unit such as Garrard's 301/401, Lenco's L75, or Thorens' TD124 costing approximately $5,000, more or less, after mods. Factor in a new tone arm for a similar cost, and a cartridge which could cost as little as $600 for a re-tipped Garrott P77, or something similar, or a maximum of $3,000 for something like a new Grado Statement. Add a reconditioned reel to reel 2-track/15ips tape-machine with custom-built tubed pre and playback-amp stages costing, let's say, $6,000 (more likely - much less since the machine, itself, could be obtained for $1000 to $3000). Digital could be handled by a computer, at no extra cost since most already have one. The sound of this PC, or similarly equiped CD-player, could be up-graded to surpass most high-end digital units with a Pro-Tools M-Box utilized as a digital/analogue-converter for our purposes (used by most studios in producing CD's) cost - much less than a grand. Why the M-Box is ignored by the high-end community is a mystery to me considering the fact that it betters most DAC's. Perhaps, and I do believe, most are not aware of its possibilities. And for others, perhaps it's not 'costly enough', ironically.

[Note that all these components have a legitimate claim to being at, or near, the top of their category. However, to dispel any doubts about the speakers, since they're unknown DIY's, those could be substituted for known, off-the-shelf, items. But since candidates which meet all the performance criteria are so very rare, and non-existent at 'reasonable' cost, then some improvisation would still be necessary. For example, aside from placement constraints, relatively 'inexpensive' Klipschorn bass-bins with mid and treble horns replaced by Avantgarde (Duo) units could never be reasonably disputed, in principle - moreover, efficiency/dynamism would be top-notch. And I'm surprised not to see such a combo thought of before now. (Avantgarde's small sub-woofers are ruled-out since the Klipsch may be better, in my opinion, and the large Basshorns are also ruled-out for being un-necessarily expensive, in the context of this exercise, and in the context of the cost/quality of the Klipsch alternative). For me though, the completely customized DIY system above would be slightly better than the Klipsch-based one, overall, for reasons concerning ultimate performance at the lower-mids, mid-bass, and deepest-bass. Efficiency/dynamism concerns would also be added to that list for most other contenders - perhaps I'm just too fussy]. But even with new Klipsch/Avantgardes, this whole audio-system would still cost less than $100k, lesser still with the prefered DIY array.

This system of used and reasonably-priced new components, I guarantee it, would equal or better any state-of -the-art million-dollar audio-system. Utilizing its 'master-tape' reel to reel facility would put it beyond reach of ALL but a hand-full of similarly equiped systems. And it would only have cost you a 'mere' $61,000, with the prefered speakers, leaving you only to source your power-conditioners, and cables/inter-connects. (Cables too, could cost you very much less if you buy from the factories that actually make them, not the facades that claim to).

Mid-Fi Sound at High-End Expense: On now to an example of a system which I'd consider to reflect an unfortunate excess in un-necessary expenditure, especially considering its ultimate potential sound-quality. Let's start at the point where the quality, the realism, of most systems is choked - the speakers.

Most, yes absolutely, MOST high-end speakers are compromised in their ability to emulate lifelike sonic-realism. This is because, while they excel at stereo imaging and minute detail-resolution, they're also dynamically constrained and tonally thin (ie lacking lower-midrange body). Unfortunately, these two major elements that they lack are, absolutely, the most important for achieving realism in reproduction We could name almost any high-end speaker-system, at random, and this statement would still be true, unfortunately. But since I've had occasion to compare them to my own in the past, we'll name the highly-regarded $12,000 iteration of B&W's 802(D) for this hypothetical system. Amps are Boulder 850, at $10,000 per pair. Line-stage pre-amp is a VTL 7.5 II at $16,500. Phono-stage is Lector mkII at $3,000. Turntable is Clearaudio Ambient with arm and Concerto cartridge - total $6,000. Total cost of this system would be around $47,500 without cables. That's nearly the cost of our no-holds-barred system above. That's almost 50-grand for great detail-resolution & stereo-imaging, but NOT MUCH OVERALL REALISM since this system is fatally choked at the throat - at the SPEAKERS.

Note that the use of almost any other popular speaker would render similar results: The B&W 802D is, in fact, one of the best of its kind. It uses some of the same components of the flag-ship, highly-acclaimed, 'state of the art' 801. B&W themselves will tell you that, except for deep-bass, both sound identical, and we all agree. So the 802D is also virtually 'state of the art' too. Nearly ALL high-end speakers have sonic characteristics similar to the 801/802, more or less. But any honest and experienced audiophile will tell you that neither the 801/802 nor any other popular high-end speaker can even come close to the REALISM of the relatively 'inexpensive' Klipschorn, for example, NONE. And there are obvious reasons why the Klipsch and others like it are so realistic, but many still fail to address these issues in the process of system-building.

[It is important to note that, yes, it is necessary to have high-quality equipment for high-quality sound. But at the levels of quality of the equipment being discussed here (in class A, B, and C - differences are minute) it is much more important to ensure overall system-synergy and comenserate levels of competence in every component in the chain. One weak link WILL compromise the quality of the whole chain. Therefore, it is entirely possible for a system of mostly class B and C components, for instance, to thoroughly out-perform a system with mostly class A components if just one of those components is compromised. In quite a few of my articles I've been trying to point-out that MOST of our speaker-systems are severely compromised. Many of them certainly deserve their class A, B, or C classification if stereo imaging and detail-resolution are the main criteria for excellence. And certainly, this could be the ONLY reason they're rated so highly. But we seem to have forgotten that high-fidelity is all about fidelity to the source - live music - as it was recorded, with all its fullness of tone and awe-inspiring dynamism. Sadly, judged against this standard, most speakers are abysmal - dynamically retarded, and tonally anorexic (at the lower mids). Judged against the standard of sonic-realism (as they should be) most speakers would be firmly ensconced in class D, or below. A pity. They do sound pretty. But they fail to replicate sonic reality!]

Near State of the Art Realism for Much Less: Now for the economic, giant-killing system of used components: Speakers could be the 104db-efficient Kilpschorns, at approximately $3,000 (if you can find an owner willing to let them go. If not then around $5,000 will buy them new). Tannoys are a, surprisingly, more expensive option. Nevertheless, we could buy the ('used' 15" dual) drivers and have the enclosures built, preferably to a 'Prestige' Tannoy-design. Scrimping on the size is not an option since efficiency-induced dynamism (along with correct, 'full-bodied', tonality, btw) is where most of its advantage lies. We'd be targeting an efficiency rating of at least 94db/1w/1m. Another option is the DIY system roughly outlined in the article, 'DIY Speaker-Systems'. based on my own system. In addition to its high-efficiency/dynamism and 'full-bodied' (lower-midrange) tonality, this DIY system is also ultimately adept at detail-resolution and stereo-imaging, among other things. Both the latter are minor issues with the Tannoys and Klipschorns, respectively, but any of these three will easily out-perform the 802D, and the vast majority of high-end speaker-systems, in so far as sonic realism is concerned. Therefore, half the battle is already won.

Amp would be similar to either of those 'giant-killing' tubed Ampexes and Stromberg-Carlsons alluded to earlier, acquired and reconditioned at a cost of perhaps $1,500. [Or it could be a solid-state ARC D130, UREI 6150/6250, Quad 303/405 or similar, for those with an affinity/aversion to tube-sound/tube-hassles, respectively]. Line-stage pre-amp would be an ARC LS3, or similar from Conrad-Johnson, Counterpoint, etc., and would cost perhaps $1000 to $1500. Phono-stage would be a tubed EAR 834P, either new and stock at $1000, or used and modified at the same cost. Or, one could consider something like an ARC SP10 or SP11 for around $3,000, thus eliminating the need, and cost, of a separate phono-stage. (Other phono-ready pre-amps like the ARC SP8 are, also, less costly options at around $1000). Turntable could be a used Linn Sondek/Ittok at $1000 to $1500 (or a Thorens TD125/SME for less, or even an idler-drive similar to those above, modified, for a little more). And cartridge could be a re-tipped discontinued moving-magnet such as the Garrott P77 above, or a new Grado Sonata for a similar price of around $500 to $600. [Oops! Again I seem to have broadly described a familiar system, albeit, sans sub-woofers and ancilliaries].

We could stop there, or we could add $1000 for an unmodified 'master-tape'-capable tape-machine, such as a ReVox A77mkIV for instance, to extract unparalleled performance, untouchable by any other rig that is not similarly equipped. So, for a total of approximately $10,000, more or less, we would have a system which would be vastly more realistic than that $47,000 system previously described. 'Upgrading' to the greatest front-end components on earth could render marginally more detail and stereo-imagery, but would still not significantly improve that un-necessarily expensive system in terms of overall sonic-realism. The irony is that just changing the speakers (the weak link) of that system, as it stands, could make it just as good as this one. But then, we'd still have achieved this level of realism for very much less.

High-End on a Shoe-string: Be advised that this philosophy of 'the best for the least' is applicable at all levels, so don't be scared by the $10k figure. That hypothetical system is, potentially at, or near, the state of the art in aspects of its performance, and is easily up-gradable to the ultimate level. It is entirely possible to build a complete system in similar fashion for somewhere around two grand, more or less, potentially out-performing many costing much more than ten.

An example? OK, consider a Thorens TD125 turntable with SME 3009II arm for $700, a Grado Reference Sonata cartridge for $500, an Audio-Research SP8 pre-amp with phono-stage for $1000, UREI 6150 or Quad 303 power-amp for less than $500, two pairs of original Advent speakers for $500. These Advents would be stacked, one inverted atop the other, to form one stereo pair - no mini-monitors advocated here. (There are two sets on e-bay for $249, each pair, even as I write). Total cost of this system (without cables and accessories) - $3200.

ALL these components are reasonably close in performance to the best in existence, and this system's performance would also be close to the best, especially in terms of mid-range naturalness, and especially in terms of sonic-realism. For instance, the Advent may not be as detailed as some of its modern counter-parts, but likewise very few of these can approach its natural realism. This was most recently reiterated in issue #162 of the Absolute Sound magazine where a panel-discussion on sonic-realism highlighted stacked Advents, Magnepans, and original Quad ESL's as being amongst the most realistic reproducers of sound - ever. These Advents could be modified for detail and stereo-dispersion, sub-woofers could be added too, but that's another story.

[Alternatives with similar natural realism and lower-mid strengths could be stacked KLH models, with 12" woofers, from the late 60's thru early 90's, but all will also have to be, eventually, modified for top-tier sound. See the article, 'DIY Speaker-Systems..' for ideas. There are others but, mostly, recommendations for those are not offered for reasons of expense - Tannoys, for example. The tower models from Boston and Cambridge SoundWorks (not Azur) are relatively recent possibilities, though. Recommendations for most others would be thoroughly hypocrytical on my part, unfortunately, due to the dearth of legitimate candidates - as previously outlined].  

If you prefer CD's to LP's, then substitution of the turntable et-al for a used (Wolfson 24-bit/96khz PCM DAC equipped) Cambridge Azur 540C CD-player, at around $400, could bring the total cost down to $2400. The Wolfson DAC and other design-features ensure performance well above this CD-player's price-bracket. Low cost and high quality were features of some of this brand's components. In fact, substitution of the amp and pre-amp for the 540A solid-state integrated amp, of the same brand, costing about the same $400, could lower the complete system's cost even further to $1300. Overall, the sound-quality would also be lowered. But the sound would still be high-end, and still better, also more realistic than some that cost much more.

Perhaps it is better to buy used, after all.

Copyright 2010

Avantgarde Trio with Basshorns
Avantgarde Trio with Basshorns

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Comments 24 comments

john glendinning 5 years ago

thanks for the great site i just purchased a pair of modified stromberg carlson 55's and they are absolutely amazing.

thx and cheers


waj4all profile image

waj4all 4 years ago Author

Hi John,

Great to know you're happy with your purchase of those killer-amps. Was it because of my article, or was it because of your vast knowledge of these things? I'm guessing it's the latter. With the amps already modified they must have cost quite a bit, am I right? I'm curious about the rest of the system tho - must be totally awesome.

I'm not too sure to which site you refer: HubPages or WAJ on AUDIO? Nevertheless, I appreciate the kind words.

Thanx. All the best. And enjoy the muzik.


Jason R. Manning profile image

Jason R. Manning 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

Hello WAJ,

My goodness, you sure went through a lot of trouble to build a comprehensive hub on audiophilia. I wish I would have read your hub 2 years ago when I was brand new to this strange and very rewarding hobby. I felt like I had gone through analysis paralysis my first 6 months searching for equipment. I’ve managed to stay under $10k for my entire system and am very happy with my class D power. I know eventually I am going to make the leap to A/B solid state (I would love to purchase a nice used McIntosh at 1/3rd price). I do not have the patience for tube maintenance.

What a great hub, this is information many of us can come back to. You are very right about the big audio publications, they seem to contradict themselves every month in order to please a different manufacturer. I mainly look them up to see the latest eye candy much like Automobile magazine. Cheers.

waj4all profile image

waj4all 4 years ago Author

Hi Jason,

It wasn't much trouble, really. I guess I was motivated by the joy of finally having a system of mine closely approaching the sound of a live acoustic band that plays next-door sometimes. Perhaps about 10 of the articles were spawned from one initial mega-essay about the system, with the idea of assisting maybe 1 or 2 others in achieving similar or better quality sound.

It's good to know you're happy with your system. And allow me to extend to you a belated welcome to the world of high-fidelity.

Thanks for the kind comments!


audiphiliac 4 years ago

i pretty much agree on all u say here but one thing, how in the world would u recommend yamaha ns 10 drivers for a state of the arte home audio system. They are pretty much on of the worst sounding drivers ever. True, they are huugely revealing and ruthlessly accurate, and that's their whole problem. They are present in many mastering studio's , but as you'll usually see, they are ALLWAYS accompanied by other mastering monitors. THE reason they exist in mastering studio's is because they sound so bad and will reveal the slightest 'bump' or 'slip up' in the master. An engineer will try to make his master sound as good as possible on the ns10, once it sound acceptible on the ns10's the master will sound good on anything. Using these drivers in your home system will drive any music lover mad, all your average recordings will never sound musical again, and only the best vinyl of mastertapes will sound 'acceptable'.

waj4all 4 years ago

Hi Audiphiliac. Nice to know you agree with almost everything I say. Your opinion of the NS10 is a popular one. (Just as popular - perhaps even more so - as opinions to the contrary). But these opinions are of the complete package. My proposal refers to the use of the NS10's mid-woofer, only. Not even the x-over of the NS10 is incorporated in the proposed hypothetical system. Additionally, this driver is blended with others, in the proposed system. For instance, the output of the lower-mids driver overlaps with that of the NS10's mid-woofer in much the same way (but even more so) as is the case with the original Wilson X-1. (Btw, a similar arrangement has actually been implemented - with excellent results). As to the NS10's mid-woofer itself, I've heard it criticized for having a 'cardboardy' mid-bass. But in comparisons with actual instruments (some kick-drums, etc) I find this to be one of the most unique and most accurate aspects of this driver's performance. Such comparisons also reveal how inaccurate the widely accepted and well-liked mid-bass of most popular speakers really is - that of my own discarded, yet highly-regarded, Spendor BC-1, for example. YMMV, however. Thanks for the kind words!

Audiphiliac 4 years ago

ok, i stand corrected but still couldn't recommend it for a diy. I feel some eton symphony's or some rohacell drivers would be a much more safe option, u'll be much more hard pressed to make them sound bad, where with the ns 10's u'll really need to know what u are doing to make them sound good imho. But hey, if we ever meet, and u can show me a system with ns 10 drivers that sounds good, it'll be a surprise no doubt and i'll owe u a beer.

That being said, for anyone reading this who's getting itchy on starting, Pi speakers are a place to start, these have been one of my all time great bargains (the 7Pi speaker that is, as a diy kit, with 15 inch jbl 2226 basdriver, B&C DE 250 compression driver, audience auricaps and mills resistors by far the best sounding 'stock' hornloudspeaker i know of, and at a 'kit' price of under 1000 bucks it's just criminally cheap, it almost feels like stealing from the company.

waj4all 4 years ago


Funny as it may sound, I do agree with you - to a point. I believe that system above is way too complicated - in the context of illustrating an example. And this is why I've revised that segment at my website where I've substituted sub-woofed and super-tweeted Altec A-5s - whether actively driven, or passives with Hiraga-mods. (Perhaps I should bring it here too).

That revised article is here; http://wajonaudio.webs.com/high-end-audio-on-a-bud...

And, from there, you may want to check-out other articles; 'The Ultimate Speakers Are Within Reach', for instance - and; 'Why Small-Coned Speakers Can NEVER Be As Realistic As The Large...'

On the subject of Pi, I totally agree with you, and share your enthusiasm (I'm very familiar with JBL drivers, especially). The audiophile world would be a lot better-off if more speakers as tonally and dynamically realistic as the 7Pi were more widely available.

By the way, if you were ever to listen to a system properly incorporating that NS10 driver along the lines outlined, then you'd better walk with a six-pack, at least, 'cause all the beer will be on you - LOL.

Thanx again!


Audiphiliac 4 years ago

wel damn my friend, i enjoyed reading that ALOT! (especially since i still use a ps1 myself shhhh), i am however a child born digital, and have less experience with vinyl and mastertape (read no experience whatsoever), that being said i'm totally happy with my pc based audio and current dac (wich was around 1000 bucks), and i'm gonna be superpissed if that pro tools m box outperforms it lol.

question though : if i would find a mastertape player, where would one find the actual mastertapes ??

waj4all 4 years ago

The Tape Project - http://www.tapeproject.com/

They'll supply new releases and new re-releases. Places like e-bay will have copies of old masters, from time to time. And if you can find a friend connected to a studio, you may be able to talk him into supplying copies of old masters for you - i.e. if it's OK with all concerned. Trust me; no other source-component comes close to a master-tape capable R2R machine - absolutely NONE - and regardless of cost.

Oh, and you should try that PlayStation 1 (SCPH-1001, only) in pure audio-mode one day. Lemme know how it compares to that DAC of yours. You may be shocked - in a good way, of course.

And it's great to know you enjoyed that revised article (Part 2 is linked at the end). There are others there you may also like.

Enjoy the music!

audiphiliac 4 years ago

jup, the scph 1001, my best birthday present ever lol! i have it in the basement in pureaudiomode and yes, it leaves litte to be desired, very analog sound.

great site u have here man, a pleasure to be reading some down to earth engineering driven audio commentary, my rich friends are allways green behind the teeth when they come listnen to my system wich costs less then some or there speakers, i do have good room though, but i'm not telling them lol

audiphiliac 4 years ago

sorry for the dp, but i cannot seem to edit my preivous post. U made me very curious about tape sound, but i guess it'll be a dream till i win the lottery or something at 5-10k for the player and then 300 bucks per tape lol. considering my list of about 1000-1500 all time favourite songs wich are playing constantly through my home, just falling in love with tape sound would just kill me if would start chasing 1000-1500 mastertapes drooool

waj4all 4 years ago

You're right about the TapeProject reels, of course - they're REAL expensive. But the other options above are less so - and you could always make your own tapes (at live performances/rehearsals, etc - with permission, of course). But that's a hassle most would not relish, I'm sure. Oh, and machines by ReVox, Otari, Technics, etc, are sometimes available at places like e-bay for around a grand, or even less. Just make sure they're 2/track and 15ips-capable. Service and use as is 'til you're ready to modify (i.e. along the lines TapeProject suggests - tube playback, especially).

Nevertheless, I can see where you'd be content with digital - especially since you're using that awesome PS1. It's really a serious piece of work - with better sound than many expensive CD-Ps (btw, you didn't mention how it compares to the DAC). And, yeah, though you didn't definitively say it, but I suspect you're using those 7Pi speakers you mentioned. If so, then it's no wonder your friends' expensive systems can't compete. The listening-room would also be a factor, as you mentioned (PS1 too).

Thanx for the kind words 'bout the site.


audiphiliac 4 years ago

well as long as u are happy with posting this here it's fine for me. My basement system consists of the only dynamic speakers i ever liked (although i'm aching to hear the new tannoy kingdom royals, albeit way out of my pricerange), the floating synthese, consisting of a suspended chassis of a tweeter, midrange and midbass, sorta floating in a subbass transmissionline enclosure 90db - 8 ohm impedance-, the tweeters, midrange, driven by 2 luxman m07 monoblocks with a luxman c06. This is where i use my playstation 1 on and i swear by it, there is a quality of sound to this system wich i just cannot part with, especially live jazz sessions at medium volume are magical. Except for the playstation 1 i inherited this system totally as is from my uncle who used to be a belgian ambassador in japan, hopefully i'll get to pass it on to someone as well.

my reference system consists indeed of a pair of 7 pi speakers, active crossover with 4 mccormack dna 250 all bought used, arc ls3 preamp (also bought used) running pc based audio with benchmarc dac-1, all running on a grounded electrical circuit, one needs to know that here in belgium 60 ampere circuits are pretty much standard, so that's where we are lucky i guess.

i'm using pretty much only high rez files ranging from dxd, dsd, lpcm,dvd audio dsd, dxd and lpcm are still being downsampled to 192/24, i'm waiting for a good oppurtunity to buy a 384/32 bit dac. Swapping out this digital for my ps1 wouldn't be totally fair, but since u asked, playing similar 44/16 from my pc comparing to the cd playback of the ps1 i'd say my pc-benchmark combo is a tad more detailed with a tad better bass performance, where the ps1 definitely sounds i little more musical if u will, a tad less analytical, but it definitely cannot hold it's own when playing high rez files in terms of scope,harmonics and dynamics. I guess the only thing lacking in my reference system is the pinpoint imaging of my basement system, wich in turn lacks the dynamics when playing at reference volume levels. it just depends on wich music i feel like hearing wich system i thereforelike to use. To my knowledge only the big tannoy's combine the dynamics of horns with pinpoint imaging, the westminster royals would be my absolute dreamspeakersystem , if i will ever find a good used deal i will jump on them. Note that all my mcormack dna's are modified to give the more tubelike character.

waj4all 4 years ago

Awesome, man. Them there's two nice systems.

No wonder your friends would be hard-pressed to compete. Luxman and McCormack amps? (Classics and modern classics). ARC LS3 pre? (I use one miself - another modern classic). And did you say; Floating Systems speakers? (Never spoke to anyone with those - renown for their 'analogue-like' sound and 'holographic-imaging', I gather). The more dynamic and tonally-realistic 7 Pi (with JBLs - or even with Eminence 15s) is more my cup-a-tea tho. And though Altecs would be my own favorites among currently-available 'over the counter' speakers/drivers, I do share your respect for the great Westminster - perhaps one of the very best speakers in existence, overall.

Obviously, we share similar likes in speakers and electronics, more-so since you did hint at an appreciation for tube-like sound. However, I suspect we differ in opinion on detail-resolution and digital (For me; analogue rules. So I've never aspired to the absolute best of digital, though I do appreciate the convenience of a good binary source). Speaking of which; your assessment of the PS1, compared to your DAC, coincides with my own opinion of it, compared to an M-Box (though mine wasn't an A/B comparison). The PS1 may have been slightly less detailed, but I felt that the analogue-like sound of the PS1 more resembled the sound of real instruments.

In fact, I tend to prefer gear (like the PS1) which display more natural musicality, even at the expense of 'analytical' levels of detail-resolution. Why? Well compared to some gear (including some I still own) I've never heard that level of detail (soundstaging too) from live instruments at a concert, for instance. I believe that if high-fidelity is about replicating the live sound, then a system which exceeds the level of detail experienced at a live concert is, therefore, inaccurate - including my own, at the moment. I'm sure many will disagree, but then; controversy's my middle-name.

Enjoy those great systems!

waj4all 4 years ago

Double-post alert: The pseudo-comparo was with CDs, of course!

audiophiliac 4 years ago

Ok attempt number 3 to make this post lol, for some reason it keeps from getting published. Yes the floating speakers are a quite unknown gem of a dynamic speaker, and they are actually still being produced right now


in the audio community they are also known as the telephone horn speaker lol. Their design hasn't changed for over 25 years now, and that's allways i good sign imho. I guess their only weakness is that indeed they don't possess the dynamic range of good high powerd high sensitivity horn speakers, but ALL their other characteristics are top notch. Holographic imaging like u wouldn't believe, more often then not people ask me where i've hidden the surround speakers. U can litterally walk around in the soundstage, with an ultra large sweetspot. Bass performance ? don't get me started, these can literally make u sick to your stomach, reaching 15hz at -3db in my room, 18 hz just flat! With the luxman setup they sound magical at medium volume levels, especially small bands playing live jazz. Why these speakers are not more widely acknowledged is a mystery to me, they are still the only dynamic speakers i could ever live with.

I totally agree with u that most high end speaker manufacturers put to much care into pinpoint imaging, it definitely shouldn't be a priority, although on some recordings i like it, when it seems the band is playing just for u. My perfect speaker however would combine the dynamics of my pi system with the imaging of the floatings, i reckon i could pull this off with the westminsters however i can't be sure until i have them in my room i guess.

I've been contemplating a diy dac with 4 ps1 chips, featuring a dual mono design. I might come to it someday.

here is a link to a list of speakers that can obtain reference levels (105db at 3m away) end that can be usefull to anyone, trust me, consulting this list will save u money:


That complete speakersystem from hasling audio u feature on your website, with the altec midrange horn looks awesome ! have u any idea what the triangular boxes on each side do, they don't seem to be attached... in the picture he is using to put a plant and ornament on them ?


greetings audiphiliac

waj4all 4 years ago

I believe those are called bass-wings. In the hey-day of the theater-horns wings such as these were said to have extended a given speaker's bass-response. The shape of this particular one is basically inconsequential, so far as I'm aware, since it doesn't improve or degrade the wings' effectiveness. Here's another example of bass-wings (these examples are not triangular - in 'plan-view') attached to the famous Altec A5s modified by Jean Hiraga. (Btw, these are believed by some to be among the best speakers ever built). http://wajonaudio.webs.com/Jean%20Hiraga%20Modifie...

You said this about the Floating Synthesis; "Why these speakers are not more widely acknowledged is a mystery to me,..." Indeed, based on what you've said about them, and also based on what I've discovered in my own subsequent research, I'd wager that these are much better than some of the most 'highly-rated' conventional speakers currently touted by the 'powers that be' in the mainstream audio-press. Why these speakers and other outstanding components are not more widely recognized is really no mystery. It's mainly due to the fact that these influential mags have worked hard to establish the status-quo, and certain elements of it (many; undeservedly so). They're, therefore, not inclined to promote components which lay outside the ambit of whatever mutually beneficial arrangements which may exist with those that are heartily promoted (again - many; undeservedly - if performance is factored).

Sorry; I cannot be more explicit than this. So I'll leave it at that!

By the way, thanks for the link to that list (and the thread surrounding it). Don't be surprised if , some time soon, you find a similar link in an article, or two, of mine. You're absolutely right when you say such a list should be useful (that is; to those who know what to look for). Again, thanks to the mainstream mags, such speakers have long been disparaged, denigrated and disregarded. This is more than ironic (read; sinister) when one recognizes that your 7Pi, Westminster, and most of the world's most tonally and dynamically realistic speakers dominate lists such as these. (Note that the conventional, inefficient, small-coned speakers these mags tout CANNOT be as realistic as these - i.e. since true realism can NEVER be achieved without the tonality and dynamism such speakers uniquely display. Yet, nary a whisper can be found about them in the mainstream mags - i.e. unless Magico, or some other favored manufacturer, actually builds a similar system; as the Magico Ultimate exemplifies). http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/magico-ul...

Let me sign-off, now, before I say too much. Suffice it to say; the shituation (no, it's no typo) with the mainstream mags, stinks to 'high-heavens'.

Enjoy the music!

audiphiliac 3 years ago

hey man long time no talk :-). I've been contemplating a diy speakersystem to test out your lower midrange claims, and i was wondering i u maybe could help me out with the frequencies. Wich frequencies constitute as lower midrange ?. And would u happen to know between wich frequencies the human voice can operate ? I'm finding a lot of contradictory statements on this subject. im thinking of a system with a 15 inch jbl, a 12inch midbass, and a hornsystem from there on up with maybe a tannoy supertweeter. My biggest concern is integrating the horn with the midbass driver, any advice u have on that ?

what about the 15 inch operating from 20-80 hz, then the midbass from 80hz til 300 hz or something and then kick in the horns or are there better formulas?


waj4all 3 years ago

Hi Audiphiliac,


.Oh yeah... been a long time... for real! Good to hear from you again.


.OK, as I recall, you already have speakers featuring mid/woofers with fairly decent lower-mids reproduction. Your 15" JBL drivers may not be the very best at this attribute, in my opinion, but they should be better than those of most conventional small-coned speakers, at this trait. That is; unless your speaker-system's x-over has been tuned to facilitate a resemblance to the currently popular thin-mids of conventional small-coned systems - a distinct possibility.


.However, good though the JBL is, I believe the Altec/GPA 515 is perhaps the best 15"er currently available, exhibiting excellence at said trait (and Altec/GPA's 416 runs a close 2nd). Though they're also great as direct-radiators, loading these drivers into short 100hz front-horns, for instance, is the ultimate in the quest for lifelike lower-mid with said drivers, in my opinion, since the horn-loading itself enhances tonal-weight, as I've recently discovered (Ask anyone who has directly compared identical direct-radiating drivers to those that are horn-loaded, and virtually all will agree - others have documented this phenomenon in regards to Tannoys).


.If you'd want to go all-out on this route, then 515s in a modified Altec A-5 system would be absolutely world-class. That is; if modified along the lines suggested in the revised version of this article - the same one I referred you to, previously in this thread. (Don't forget appropriate subs, tho).


.A somewhat less-expensive option would be just to buy a used Altec Valencia, Model 19, or similar. (A reader I recently designed a system for got a pair of Valencias for $1.3k, off e-bay). This option could also be less expensive than DIY, with new components.


.For a system with outstandingly lifelike low-mids, there's another option utilizing cheap KLH drivers. But this route calls for very extensive mods, in a very complicated process, which would amount to similar costs to the-above examples. Therefore, I'd not recommend it here as too much of my time would need to be dedicated to a step-by-step guide.


[By the way, the mods are absolutely necessary to ensure top-class performance. But, initially, 4 of these cheap drivers should cost less than 100-bucks - with their original enclosures. And these cheap double-stacked speaker-systems alone WOULD demonstrate exemplary lower-mids (these cheap 12"ers are better at this than any other driver I know of). Nevertheless, low-mids is the only area they're outstanding at. For the best performance, overall, every other area MUST be addressed thru mods. So, unless you just want to see what lifelike lower-midrange reproduction is like, I'd urge you to look at the other options suggested. The main info needed for this and the others is ensconced in several of my articles at the fore-mentioned site - go right ahead and read-up on them. I'm afraid I'll not be able to dedicate the time for more detailed accounts than already provided. I wish I could, but time is money - especially today. Be also advised that a good active pre-amp is COMPULSORY for best results (a passive pre is a waste of time - trust me). And use only amps which are realistically full-toned (you'd be surprised at how many highly-regarded units are lacking in this region - a fact hidden by the widespread use of the currently popular thin-midranged small-coned systems featuring similar deficiencies).]


.I wish you all the best on this, and I hope you'll let me know how it turns out.



waj4all 3 years ago

Oops - and a DP, at that

.Lower-midrange is 160 - 320hz

. "And would u happen to know between wich frequencies the human voice can operate ? I'm finding a lot of contradictory statements on this subject."

.Same here. However, I found this in an article on telephony. "Human speech spans frequencies between 30 to 13000 Hz and the recipient should hear most of these frequencies in order to fully capture the depth, intonation and quality of sound of the speaker's voice. Standard PSTN networks operate in frequency ranges between 300 to 3300 Hz and are only a fraction of what the human speech can contain. Frequencies beyond the range of the PSTN phone are simply clipped off resulting in poor sounds. To better understand this, try listening to the sound of an AM radio broadcast - PSTN frequencies are much narrower than that." Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/4741278

"...im thinking of a system with a 15 inch jbl, a 12inch midbass, and a hornsystem from there on up with maybe a tannoy supertweeter." My advice would be along the lines outlined in my previous post - a system similar to a subwoofed (and possibly super-tweeted) A-5, for instance. In my experience (by way of countless experiments, in comparisons with the live sound) the cone-surface area of a 15" mid-woofer (or multiples of smaller drivers amounting to the equivalent in area; 2x12"s, for instance) constitute the 1st critical criterion in the quest for lifelike lower-mids. The intrinsic lower-mids prowess of certain mid-woofers (Altecs, for example) is the other most important criterion since very few drivers today are imbued with such outstanding abilities, in this region. For DIY plans for such a mid-woofer, you could also investigate the likes of 80 - 100hz front-horns at Inlow Sound, for instance. (If Edgarhorn Titan's plans, or those of the Exemplar Project, were available, then I'd seriously consider those). Plans for subs are also there at Inlow as well as at other places like Decware - vintage designs from the likes of Klipsch, Karlson, Onken, etc, are also viable, and modern tapped-horns are relatively inexpensive options.

"My biggest concern is integrating the horn with the midbass driver, any advice u have on that ?" I'm really not sure how to respond to that as this would be dependent on the driver-combo. My best advice at this stage would be to 'play it be ear'. If you opt for Altecs, then GPA (Great-Plains Audio) would be your best source for well-matched x-over units. (For the A-5, Jean Hiraga's modified x-over is allegedly outstanding).

"What about the 15 inch operating from 20-80 hz, then the midbass from 80hz til 300 hz or something and then kick in the horns or are there better formulas?" I really don't see anything to argue there. If I were seeking to build such a system, perhaps I'd go with a sub from 20 - 100hz, then 515s on an Inlow 100hz front-horn (Volvotere is another option that slipped me) and this would perhaps go up to 500hz. From there, either small-format Altec 511s or 288 comp-drivers on Altec multi-cell horns (805, perhaps) would take-over from there. JBL bullet-tweeters (075) or similar, may or may not be also considered as super-tweeters - implemented with no x-over here, with only a cap utilized to blend the s-tweet from the point of the mid/hi horn's natural roll-off..

But these are only my opinions, YMMV.

David 3 years ago

Hi there, I'm seriously considering purchasing the system you describe as "shoestring." The one substitution I would make is to use a tube power amp instead of solid-state. I had one question though: when I search eBay for Advent speakers, there seem to be many different models available. Is there a particular model/year that you would recommend? Thanks!

waj4all profile image

waj4all 3 years ago Author

Hi David,


Original Large Advents (double-stacked) was my original recommendation.


However, if you plan to use a tube amp, you'll need something over 30wpc (at significant expense, for a good one) as these speakers, though exceptionally natural, are not especially efficient/dynamic.


Another alternative is to spend much less on a high-quality low-powered tube amp, such as the Magnavox 93-series 6BQ5 para-phase amp, similar to one I've recently tested and found to be excellent (report pending). It's quite possible to find one for around 100-bucks. Then you should have all resistors and capacitors changed to updated high-quality items (perhaps another 200-bucks, or less). Tube-roling can come later - just make sure all tubes included with the amp are good - in any case, they're not expensive. My own Maggie is being modified along the lines outlined at this linked site - with excellent results, so far: http://gabevee.tripod.com/maggie.html


My advice is to use the money saved on amplification, etc., in order to secure a very good high-efficiency speaker system, such as an Altec Model 19 or something similar, at around $1200, or there-about. Re: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Altec-Valencia-846A-Pair-o...


Here's a link to an updated article of mine, on the subject. Feel free to use any information you may find useful, here: http://wajonaudio.webs.com/SPEAKERS%20are%20the%20...



waj4all profile image

waj4all 3 years ago Author

Sorry, I seemed to have missed this - specific to the Advent: "Is there a particular model/year that you would recommend?" Well, the original Large Advent came out in 1969, I believe. But many would suggest that the "New" Large Advent, circa 1973 to perhaps the mid 70s, was the better example, with a tighter mid-bass and sweeter highs. YMMV!

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