Good value? Atom + C320BEE + Audigy
First-time poster here. I've lurked and read and searched, but I still have some questions, so I thought I'd throw them out here.
I like listening to music and have a decent ear, but I'm definitely no audiophile. And since I'm a (poor) graduate student, I'm simply interested in good, solid, and reliable audio bang for my buck.
I gather that an audio system is only as good as its worst component, so I'll give my (rather simple) intended setup and see if anyone thinks I'm doing something terribly wrong. This stuff will all be in a 13' x 13' room. I listen to mostly chamber music, jazz (the earlier stuff), and some vocals.
- Paradigm Atom (there's a Paradigm dealer near me)
- NAD C320BEE
- Decent computer sound card, such as the Audigy (playing CDs ripped with no compression)
Here are my concerns:
- The C320BEE costs significantly more than the Atom. Is it "normal" to spend more on your integrated amplifier than on your speakers? 50%, 100% more? (There's a thread titled How would you spend your money? but everything discussed there seems a bit pricey.)
- Do good sound cards like the Audigy compare to standalone CD players that are in my price range? Or will it be a limiting factor? Which CD player would you recommend? What if I used my Panasonic discman?
Things I need to consider: value and reliability. I want to be using this stuff for years (decades?). Things that I don't need to consider: extremely loud music, annoying computer whine (it's very quiet).
I know that the right thing to do is to go out there and listen to these setups, and I've done that (without the Audigy). But I just wanted to make sure I wasn't doing anything dumb, and to get any suggestions that may be out there. Thanks!
You may be poor but you're still a student and music is a must have to keep you sane. This holds doubly true if you want these pieces to last. Being far from an expert and even farther from being rich I'd suggest a couple of things.
First off a solid, name brand DVDP could easily double as a CD player in this set up. Probably costs less than that soundcard and is certainly more versatile. Man can't live by toons alone (and this from someone who posts almost exclusively at Rave Recs). You will need some cheap dates and a movie rental and dinner at your joint seems to make this an obvious direction to consider.
From a purely personal standpoint I think very little of the Atoms and their cousin Titans. Years ago I probably even recomended from time to time based on the reviews I had encountered. Then I listened to them. I don't think there's anything there at all to remind me of a decent speaker. Yeah I know it's inexpensive but I certainly would look for something else. While it may cost a little more upfront I'd seriously think about reading the reviews of the AR DIYs. I bought them blindly and don't have a single regret. I'd expect a similar reaction to one of the simple kits at Parts Express. In my opinion this option is something you could live with for years to come.
Of course this is only one guy's limited opinion. I wish you the best of luck which ever road you chose.
"Ahh, cartoons! America's only native art form. I don't count jazz 'cuz it sucks"- Bartholomew J. Simpson
Well Pete, you've just uncovered the age old question of which came first; the chicken or the egg? In audiophile terms, the related question is which is more important; the source (front end) or the playback (speakers)?
Both arguments are compelling. After all, a speaker will only reproduce what it is given, right? Garbage in = Garbage out. The flip side is of course that regardless of how clean and accurate the signal is when it arrives at the speaker, a bad speaker will still make it sound, well...bad. Do you see the conundrum here?
Personally, I think speakers have a much more profound difference in sound than the front end. While there are audible differences between amps, pre's, cd players, turntables, etc., this difference is usually subtle when comparing apples to apples (no Sony vs. ARC comparisons). Speakers on the other hand can and do sound dramatically different, even at the same price point. I guarantee you that a Maggie MMG will sound vastly different from a like-priced Paradigm Monitor.
I'm with JC in that I'm not a huge fan of the little Paradigms. You might give the Epos ELS3 a listen as this is a neat little monitor.
That said, if you like the sound that comes from your NAD/Paradigm/Audigy set-up, I say go for it. Who cares if your amp is a lot more expensive than the speakers? It's your money and your ears.
Although I don't like the Atom for rock/electronic/pop music because of it's limited dynamics, for the music you'll be listening to I think it will work really well.
If the cost of the integrated is a concern, I know that Pioneer Elite has an integrated amp that sells for about $200. I also believe that TEAC, AMC, and Cambridge Audio all have integrateds that are less expensive than the NAD.
You can use either the soundcard or your discman, you'll just have to get the appropriate cable. I have no idea about the reliability issues, but either source will at least give you a point of reference should you ever think about upgrading in the future.
"Reality supercedes science."
-- badman, 9/3/02, AudioAsylum.com
Just to be fair here...
The Atoms are great little speaker for home theater surround purposes or for a small bedroom like application, but in larger rooms their obvious flaws are revealed as you turn up the volume. They are what they are. To be honest though, I haven't heard any $200 ish speakers that are really any better including my Axiom M3Ti's ($275) and the Epos recommended above. I've heard alot worse...walk into a Sony Store or check out the BO--...never mind....
I think their criticism should be taken with a grain of salt. They're quite indicative of the quality available at that price-point and many, many, people have started off with Paradigm Atoms or PSB Alphas or something similar and were perfectly happy. Other speakers will sound a bit different, but I find they just trade one sonic characteristic for another. Compromises have to be made somewhere at $200 and below.
I'm going to suggest you look at the used market here. You could easily snarf up an older NAD integrated like the 3020 or 3140 on ebay or audiogon.com for $100 to $120, some decent bookshelfs that are a step up above the Atoms and Titans for $200 ish. This setup would smoke what you can buy for $400 brand new. Best of all, you can probably sell it for 80 to 90% of what you pay for it in a year or two when you're ready to upgrade.
If you aren't afraid of a little work and soldering, I'd highly recommend the Parts Express BR-1 kit. They'd whoop the Atoms and many more speakers in the $200-$350 range while costing a good chunk less ($140 or so). They aren't the prettiest, but you'll get over that.
I found that a good match for NAD integrateds (I have 2) are the Acoustic Energy Aegis Ones. The latest model is the EVO One which lists for $300. Like most bookshelf speakers, they perform best on stands so you may need to factor that cost in now or in the future for best results. I have noticed that many NAD dealers also carry PSB speakers. I haven't heard the PSB Image 2B but it has received decent reviews and may be priced in the $300 range.
BTW, the Polk RTi28 and 38s aren't that bad for circuit city speakers. My son has the earlier RTi25s with a cambridge audio integrated that sounds pretty good to me. In comparison I would say that the Polks are better suited for rock and the AEs to me sound really smooth with jazz. I hear the high frequency info with the AEs but they're no quite as forward and maybe not as extended as the Polks. But, acoustic bass lines and cymbal and snare brushes just seem right with the AEs.
While I don't think you're doing anything terribly wrong, I do feel there are some options to explore. You could save some money on amplification by considering a good, introductory stereo receiver. Models like the Onkyo TX-8211, the Denon DRA-295 or a Harmon Kardon would provide very good performance especially considering your room size and listening preferences. You would also have the option of listening to the tuner and more money available for speakers. I like the Acoustic Energy Aegis Evo One's suggested by dean_martin and you might consider the Paradigm Mini Monitor which I think would sound very good in your application. I think better speakers will make your system enjoyable for a longer period and when you want to upgrade to an integrated (you won't be a grad student forever) you won't have to upgrade speakers right away. I have listening preferences and a room similar to yours and I am getting very satisfying performance from a Harmon Kardon receiver and Polk Rti38's so I think something similar would be very workable for you. I don't know too much about your digital questions but you might consider an inexpensive carousel cd or dvd player somewhere down the line simply to have more playback options. Onkyo has some nice inexpensive units and even the cheap RCA players are supposed to be ok. As an example, the DRA-295 (list about $250), the Evo One's ($300) and an Onkyo cd (DCX?-380 about $150 clearance at Circuit City) would total about $700 and sound very good. A real budget option might be the TX-8211 ($200 Circuit City) paired with Athena Technology AS-B2 speakers ($250 at Best Buy) and stick
with your soundcard/walkman. So you can see there are some other choices. I'm not trying to dissuade you from your original choices which I think will work well for you, rather just trying to point out another option. Hope I haven't confused the issue. Good luck.
Spend the most on the speaker. I personally dislike the Atom and Titan - I would try the other suggestions at the very least.
Watch out for the NAD320Bee - I tried this out at my dealer and 3 units sound wrong. My dealer had phoned NAD because the amplifier despite all the reviews does not present a proper soundstage - indeed it almost sounds out of phase with vocals coming from outside the speakers rather than being center. I have never heard an amplifier this grossly out of whack.
Another reason not to go by reviews - and all the 320s were like this. The dealer will not order anymore and will be taking other units. The comparably priced Rotel RA integrated on the other hand was rather supurb for little money.
Did you also build the Dayton kit? I too think they are really good for the coin.
Originally Posted by kexodusc
As you say, they are better than the Atoms, as well as the Titans... I have a pair of these too.
While certainly not perfect, I don't feel the "as good as 2-3x the price speakers" is too far off.
It was a fun project!
Thanks for everyone's input; it was all very helpful. I'm leaning towards getting the Dayton BR-1 from Parts Express (unless there are cheap cabinets for the AR.com DIY!), though I won't be able to hear them first. I can't find many reviews of these speakers, so perhaps I'll just ask here, though these questions probably should be talked about in the thread Does anyone have any experience with Parts Express' Dayton BR-1 Speakers?
- Will they work well in a small room with jazz and chamber music? (Please see the original post.) From just browsing around, I see that certain speakers are not suitable for certain sized (shaped?!) rooms.
- What tools will I need to assemble these speakers? Is a screwdriver enough?
- What are people's experiences with the BR-1? What kind of music? Compared to other equipment suggested above?
And I'm not planning on using stands--is this a terrible thing? Thanks again, folks. --Peter
You should use stands for bookshelf speakers, or at the very least have them 3 or more feet of the floor on something. Othewise buy a floorstander.
The BR-1's really opened my eyes at how good they sound...I haven't built them, but came very close after a guy I met and visited on another audio web-forum let me sample his compared to his B&W's that were far more expensive, and his older Boston Acoustics CR-8's. You would be quite surprised at how good they are. Certainly better than any commercial $300 speaker I've ever heard. Probably many $400-$500 ones too, but I really hate making statements like these. But they are rather ugly compared to the fancy commercial designs...might be a factor if you're married .
You always here advertisements saying how a speaker sounds better than other speakers 3 times it's cost...well the BR-1's are honestly a speaker that could make that claim!!! I was impressed that they were build for about $150.
Drop Drive, do you know anybody competent at woodworking? Is there a hobby shop or anything your town. You could easily pay someone $80 -$100 and paint cabinets black yourself, and buy the Ar.com DIY's....these are far better than the BR-1's, and are really challenging speakers well over $1000. I'm working on replacing all my Paradigm Studio's with them. IMO, it'd be worth the wait if you had to save up more money. Maybe you could build the cabinets yourself?
If not, don't hesitate to buy the BR-1's...you could easily sell them used at Parts Express for most of what you paid for them in a year or two if you ever decide to upgrade or build more challenging designs.
You will need to solder the crossovers of the BR-1...soldering isn't as hard as you're probably thinking...buy some paper clips and practice. This is probably a bit intimidating for you if you've never soldered, but everyone at Parts Express was in the same boat. Maybe you know someone with soldering experience?
I'll give you my $.02...
...as to what they sound like.
Originally Posted by Drop Drive
Overall, I would put them on the dark side of neutral - you know how the Atom, for eg., sound light, tight and a bit thin? These are pretty much the opposite. There is a good dose of bass, the mids are a bit closed-in, and the tweeter seems to be shelved back a bit compared to "audiophile" stand-mounts. This is a good thing - it's actually a very fatigue-free speaker.
Another aspect I like about the kit is they throw a realistic-sized soundscape. Images aren't too pinpointed, nor are they 10' tall. Just right in this aspect... let 'em breathe a bit.
It should do well with ANY music you throw at it... I listen to mostly Jazz, and they do fine. You can hear a fair amount of attack and decay (considering cost), as well as having a decent foundation - I think you'll be suprised at the amount of bass. Resolving power (IMO, of course!) is better than Athenas, or JBLs, and my Paradigm Titans. The cabinet seems to be quieter, also.
Problems? Well, they a bit hard to drive. You have to turn up the wick a bit more than other speakers. I personally don't find this to be a big problem - with a 75 WPC Denon, you can still blow dry your hair with the wind coming out of the port. Plenty loud, and no problem with dynamics.
Another negative is a slight "hootiness"... upper bass, maybe? Again, not a big deal, just a bit off. We must remember the price - many inexpensive speakers exibit problems in the region.
Honestly, I feel NO ONE could actually "hate" these speakers. The fact that they are fatigue-free with a decent helping of bass is enough to at least enjoy them.
Tools... you'll need a soldering iron, screwdriver, glue gun (cheap at Rat Shack), and a wire stripper. I think that's about it...
I would put them on stands if possible. If they must be put into a shelving unit, for eg., you can buy the rubbery placements and cut to size... these will give them a non-slip surface and a bit of damping.
Well, if you built them, keep in touch with your impressions!
Jimmy thinks you'll like 'em.
I agree with this. I listened to 3 pairs of NAD C320bee amps and all three had different levels of bass! I took two home and was unhappy, listened to them at the dealer and he agreed, they did have different levels of bass. I ended up buying a NAD C370 instead.
Originally Posted by RGA
Huh? You tested out 3 pairs of these amps? As in 6??? That's some serious defect rate, did Sony buy NAD while I wasn't looking?
Originally Posted by Colin^
I've only heard 2 physical C320Bee's, and they were fairly competent units. Well worth consideration, but the ones I heard weren't defective to my knowledge. I'd like to look further into these claims. Thought NAD's troubled days were behind them...Geez, the audio world went nuts over this unit for awhile.
The Nad is seriously strange - I didn't notice it myself when you just listen to it all by itself but when A/Bing them with the Rotel it was clear to Terry(owner of Soundhounds and carries NAD) and myself that the 320Bee is off the mark when it comes to the soundstage. Voices seems to come from outside the speaker boxes - while the bass and everything else seems ok. The designer of this particular NAD is supposed to be a famous designer of some sort and made the 320Bee for NAD. So it is a completely different product than the rest in the line-up and according to reviews a class leader - but if one can't tell that Dianna Krall is not placed properly between the two speakers there is something wrong.
Terry checked with NAD to find out oif there was a production problem with wiring them internally out of phase or something but it's not the case. And he could not contact the designer. IMO it's unnacceptable as an amplification device unless you mate it with Bose whose soundstages are already so out of whack that perhaps the NAD could fix those. No problems with the 350 or 370 though.
I'm going to try to sneak down to a NAD dealer this week and see if I can hear anything wrong with any of theres. I know people who've absolutely sworn how good these things sound. I was impressed with the brief time I looked at them.
What a shame if poor manufacturing was to ruin what is suppose to be a stellar product.
Yeah I didn't notice anything either with my brief time but when I A/bed em with the new Dianna Krall disc track's 11 and 12 it was quite noiticeable when right after it we put the Rotel integrated in and she was placed firmly in the center.
Well matt39, you did make me much more undecided, but that's not a bad thing.
Some people didn't think too much of the Atom, so I went back to the store to listen to them again, and again thought they weren't bad. But then I saw the Paradigm Mini Monitor (v.3?) and decided to give them a shot. They were so much better that there was no longer any way I could be happy with the Atom. But the Mini Monitors, at $400/pair, were too rich for my blood, so now I really want to build the much-recommended AR.com DIY. And yes, kexodusc, there is a workshop near me, so I can learn some carpentry there. Seems like a useful set of skills to have! At $175 + $7-8 shipping for the kit from Madisound, I figure this pair of speakers will be a fun and affordable project.
My only question (well, besides the ones from my previous post) is: people seem to feel that the AR.com DIY can outperform thousand-dollar speakers. The question is, can they also outperform the Mini Monitors (which, for all intents and purposes, may perform like two thousand-dollar speakers)?
The store also had a demo pair of Mini Monitors at $279. Good buy?
Absolutely, in fact, the ar.com's actually sound better than my Paradigm Studio 40 v.2's, which were over $1000. The Mini-Monitors are your basic, $400 speaker, and are fairly decent, but don't buy the hype that they sound better than $1000 or $2000 speakers. They don't usually. Not unless those $2000 speakers are crappy Bose or something.
People I know that have built the Ar.com's have almost all come from owning a pair of $1000 speakers, wanted more, and couldn't afford to keep shelling out that kind of cash to get the performance they wanted.
I'm building a few projects right now, the Ar.com's are replacing my Studio 40's and 20's in my home theater.
I had a pair of Vifa towers built for me. I was blown away when this $1000 kit sounded better than some $2400 Snell Acoustic's I was considering and almost kept up with a pair of $5000 from the same company.
At $279, the Mini Monitors aren't bad. I bought some Axiom M3Ti's late last year that go for $275. They're raved about quite a bit. In my opinion, they aren't quite as good as the Mini Monitors.
If they have the full warranty, look and sound good to you, you might consider them. But if you can grab the ar.com's, you'll be much further ahead.
Hi Drop Drive,
I'm sorry if I confused the issue it's just that a well made receiver can often compete fairly well with entry level integrated amps and be very cost effective. As to your question on the demo mini monitors, I would say that if they are version 3 then it is a very good deal. If they are version 1 or 2 then I would pass (they're good speakers but it's just not that good of a price for them). The mini's are very good speakers at their price level and compete well with speakers from companies like PSB an B&W. I think they would work well with your music preferences and pair up well with a receiver like the Denon DRA-295. If your Paradigm dealer stocks Denon maybe you could audition the pair and see what you think. It sounds as though you are leaning toward DIY speakers. If you go this route then pairing them with a used or demo receiver in good condition might give you some nice cost savings. One thing I've found in stereo shopping is that it is not hard to find good choices, rather it's very difficult to decide among all the good one's that are there in front of you. Good luck.
try second hand gear, at least for the amp and maybe cd player, you can save lots...read reviews on gear first and of course test out first if possible. Worked for me.
My crossovers from Madisound arrived yesterday and I'm close to finishing my cabinets, so I imagine I'll be all done pretty soon.
I'm also buying a used NAD 3020 ($150) and perhaps a demo NAD C521BEE ($210). I might just use my cheap Discman. Sound reasonable?
The real question I have is, are there any recordings with a very very accurate soundstage? I need to make sure my wiring and setup is right. Can anyone send me a WAV file please?
I would recommend that you try to compare both in your own system to see if the sonic improvements from the NAD are worth the cost to you. I have little doubt that the NAD will sound better, but the cost/benefit analysis between the two items is an entirely different matter.
Originally Posted by Drop Drive
"Reality supercedes science."
-- badman, 9/3/02, AudioAsylum.com
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