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Budget amp / my new KEF LS50s vs Studio Monitors / AV & Stereo audio journey


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So I have a pair of passive Q 3020i that are my current surrounds, and rather then flog them for $200 or whatever they're worth, I thought I would gift them to my parents, who have never had any home theatre audio that didn't come from the crappy inbuilt TV sound, not even a sound bar.

 

They don't want "another box" so I'm looking for something that is smaller than a standard receiver, that just does the job, and something secondhand is fine as long as it's easy to find.  I also need some help figuring out where to plug it in, and what connection to use.

 

Their current pathway is Sony Bravia dumb-TV circa 2013 -> HDMI -> Foxtel IQ 2.  They watch Foxtel 95% of the time but still the speakers need to work on the "TV" input.  They don't need 5.1, they don't need eARC, 4-6 HDMI inputs, or room EQ, etc, etc, just 2.0.

 

I'm still feeling like a beginner on my audio journey, but just won an eBay auction for some KEF LS50s with stands for $1009, so after I did a happy dance that no one sniped me and I got a great price......I'm thinking of moving my Q Acoustic Concept 20 fronts to become my surrounds instead of selling them, because the stands are just way too nice: https://www.the-ear.net/review-hardware/q-acoustics-concept-20-40-loudspeakers

 

I'm still just learning about audio separates so I don't know what else I can get besides an AV receiver, or if my only option is any old receiver that accepts HDMI and it has to be a standard receiver size box. 

 

I am reading about audio everyday and learnt just today that my Pioneer VSX 932 is now not up to the job that I want, because it doesn't have front pre-outs, because my next step is getting separates to run the LS50s. If I want one which will handle a future 120hz OLED then I need to spend $3000 on a Denon Receiver, so I'm heading down the slippery slope, lol.

 

Cheers!

Edited by Zanny
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One of many options:

For 2.0 you can run optical from TV to DAC (like Topping E30) + integrated like the new Rega. 

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"budget" perhaps I need to clarify, I need a solution preferably $100 or less.  They don't need audio fidelity, just a taste of channel separation and what a proper tweeter and woofer can do....  so they can be motivated to buy the LS50s off me when I upgrade next time.

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1 hour ago, Zanny said:

"budget" perhaps I need to clarify, I need a solution preferably $100 or less.  They don't need audio fidelity, just a taste of channel separation and what a proper tweeter and woofer can do....  so they can be motivated to buy the LS50s off me when I upgrade next time.

The LS50 are reviewed and from personal experience are demanding speakers meaning they go below 4 ohm load giving amps a harder time to sound better. Many owners who didn’t consider this have given up on them as being average sound. The Pioneer av will probably drive them but not sound good, such cheap HT amps are notorious for sounding very bland.

 

Your cheapest option is a vintage NAD 3020 for around $100-250 or similar amps that have high current delivery at 4 ohm speaker load. I am currently using such amp very successfully but it won’t allow you to setup HT more than two stereo speakers. You will need to see how to make it work and operate a subwoofer signal feed for all inputs. Other older NAD (3020 tradition derivatives) amp and other brands though more money may do like models 3120, 3140, 3150, C320bee and C325bee.

Edited by Al.M
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Thanks.  That's the thing with my audio journey, I thought my stuff was good enough, until I upgraded and realised that it wasn't.

 

In January I bought PreSonus R65 active studio monitors for my PC and in Feb a T10 Temblor sub and it absolutely annihilates the quality of my home theatre.  So it is a shame the Pioneer will make the LS50s sound below average, I might have to meditate on how to fix this issue while waiting for a few more paychecks.  At least at $1009 the LS50s with stands are not gonna drop in value anytime soon.

 

Getting back to my parents solution, so I have 3020i and I have regular speaker cable.  I guess I can use banana plugs with them?  I have never used banana plugs before.  And then I plug an optical cable from the back of the TV into a mini-DAC/AMP (but not headphone AMP) like is reviewed here? https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?forums/digital-to-analog-dac-review-and-discussion.10/

 

I then plug the pin side of the banana plugs into speakers, and then the banana side plugs into the RCA on the DAC/AMP?

Edited by Zanny
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27 minutes ago, Zanny said:

plug the pin side of the banana plugs into speakers, and then the banana side plugs into the RCA on the DAC/AMP?

Yes or bare wire jammed firmly.

 

Long term perhaps lookout for stereo amps that have hometheatre bypass connection allowing both to operate. There are many posts about this.

Edited by Al.M
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Posted (edited)

I'm having a heck of a time figuring out this integrated amplifier thing.

 

1) I can't find anything decent online under $250.  I've looked on Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and eBay in Victoria.

 

2) I made a mistake with the AV receiver I bought 2 years ago, it doesn't have Home Theatre Passthrough Pre Out section for fronts, only subwoofer, so I can't run the KEF LS50s on an integrated amplifier and easily use them in my surround system.  I also don't have the space to have them sitting beside my current Concept 20 fronts.

 

3) These integrated amplifier tech is giving me a headache.  Now you also have "network receivers". I don't need to plug in a record player, CD player, I just want to connect the speakers to my TV, and then stream from my NVidia Shield or whatnot.  Or connect to my PC, via my USB audio interface or FiiO E10K to play FLACs, MP3s, and multimedia content and gaming.

 

I can go for something vintage, but then I can't plug it into my computer via USB, or connect easily via bluetooth, or wifi.  Then you have newer ones but they only do 1 or 2 of BT/WiFi/USB, and then they cost $600-$999.  Or you have all these tiny devices that confuse me, are they a DAC, or an amplifier?  Like the Dayton Audio DTA-2.1 or the SMSL, or other little devices, do these provide quality audio that will let me hear the difference from my AV receiver?  Or is this the solution for my parent's 2.0 setup?

 

My thought at the moment is that I get something vintage and connect it via RCA cables to my Behringer UMC204HD to my PC, and A/B test the LS50s vs my active studio monitors.  Is this the way to go?  To the "playback outputs"?  I have the PreSonus R65s connected via XLR to the "main outs" - here is the manual: https://mediadl.musictribe.com/media/sys_master/he1/hdc/8849614274590.pdf

 

However, then I can't plug in the powered subwoofer - T10 Temblor so the KEFs will be lacking bass.

 

Looking at Yamaha WXA-50 ($594) which has USB/Wifi/BT but unsure of audio fidelity but has a warranty and covers all bases.  Or Cambridge Audio AXA35 without digital ($699)

Edited by Zanny
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I don’t think you can find anything decent for under $250, even vintage   
amp for that money may be a risky choice (probably not in perfect condition)

 

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I'd be surprised if the old Sony TV doesn't have RCA analogue or a headphone jack? 

 

How decent do you need. The old Inkel on Gumtree for $150, while not great, isn't crap. You can buy worse new. Rated at 280W max and images OK on Lenehan ML1+Rs.  I had one that blew in a power spike. 

Edited by DrSK
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Stupid question, what would happen if I get an amplifier with unbalanced RCA outs, and then run them to the RCA Inputs on the back of my Active Subwoofer?  Will that allow me to use the sub with the LS50s?

 

Here is a photo of back of the sub: https://factorysound.com/products/t10b-stock/

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  • Zanny changed the title to Budget amp / my new KEF LS50s vs Studio Monitors / AV & Stereo audio journey
Posted (edited)

I change the title of this thread because I went off on a tangent from my original concept which was to discuss hooking up my old speakers to my parent's TV.

 

I was hunting for a week to find a decent amp, and was setting my eyes on buying something expensive, but there were a few Pioneer A-109's popping up for around $200.

 

The main place with good feedback were Amazon UK reviews: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pioneer-A-109-40w-Amplifier-Black/dp/B00005OOJF

 

Then lo and behold, someone in Melbourne posted one for $95, so I told the guy "absolutely" and few days later drove nearly 2 hour round trip to grab it.  

 

Pioneer
Product Specifications
  • Signal to noise ratio
91dB Line
  • Dimensions (HxWxD) in mm
114x420x307
  • Finish
Black
  • Input impedance
50K Ohm
  • Frequency Response 1
20Hz to 20kHz
  • Rated distortion
0.08%
  • Rated output power
40 Watts per Channel
  • Power Consumption
80 Watts
  • Weight
4.3kGs

 

I found some spare monster speaker wire, and plugged my new KEF LS50s in today and played "All along the watchtower" and wow, it's like Jimi Hendrix is right in front of me.

 

I like this Amp / KEF LS50 combination.....  do I like it more than the Active Studio Monitors and sub combo - R65s and T10? 

 

Maybe just maybe this is going to be better for near field, a warmer sound, more dynamic and less analytic and without the active hissing noise, because I have a small space and have to run the R65s about 1m away from my ears.

 

I've started A/B testing, with the PreSonus R65s via the UMC204HD and the LS50s + Pioneer amp via a FiiO E10K DAC.  

 

I have PC software called EarTrumpet which sits in the system tray and I can switch quickly.

 

I'm not a professional audio reviewer obviously, and I've started reading a book called "How to Listen to Jazz" https://www.amazon.com.au/How-Listen-Jazz-Ted-Gioia/dp/0465060897  that I bought recently.  In that, the critic writes that he moved to Napa and was reading a famous wine critic and how he reviews wine using superlatives but when he drank, the music critic personally knew wine was good or bad, but couldn't tell the difference between 90 points vs 96 points etc.

 

Jennifer Hudson's "And I am Telling You I'm Not Going", when played through the LS50s + Pioneer amp via a FiiO E10K DAC, it's just got such a nice warm feeling in the mids.  It's like I actually feel more connected to the song, to Jennifer Hudson and to the music.   Then I flip the switch EarTrumpet and play the same song through the R65s and it's night and day. 

 

The AMT driver, I really like the highs of the R65s.  But it's only now I plug in the LS50s that I understand why studio monitors are so analytical.  Even with the T10 Temblor 10" subwoofer.  

 

Switching to something else, Major Lazer's "You're No Good" at low volume, before my girlfriend throws something at me.... the Uni-Q Driver with the dual concentric drivers.... I really thought the AMT driver would be better, but man, at low volumes, the sound just feels so connected between the low, mids and highs.

 

But I think I can tell very quickly that I made a mistake getting the studio monitors.  They sounded fantastic back in Jan/Feb but I think these LS50s are really juicy.  

 

Switching the to the first 30 seconds of Alabama Shakes "Hold On", the bass guitar is a lot better with the T10 Temblor.  If I can pair the sub with the LS50s I'd be pretty happy.  I think I need an RCA to TRS cable or RCA to XLR.

 

Edit - OK now maybe I'm being a total wanker, but I played half of the album Version by Mark Ronson before I discovered that I had two copies, one MP3 and one FLAC, as I am starting to only download FLAC.  I can actually hear a difference between MP3 and FLAC.  Now maybe this is just the fact that they were ripped at different volumes, but I really think the trumpets in Just [Mark Ronson feat. Phantom Planet] are improved sonically in the FLAC version.

Edited by Zanny
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Posted (edited)

I think I can't connect the T10 active sub to the old receiver, because the audio path is PC -> USB DAC -> 3.5mm to RCA cable -> integrated amp -> speaker wire -> KEF LS50s.  

 

The sub has no high-level inputs to plug in the passive speakers.

 

So my other thought, is to steal the Gallo Acoustics TR-1 Subwoofer that I have in the living room.  Here is a photo: 

 

So I posed the question but after a few hours I figured it out.  I ignored the high-level inputs and just used the outs from the intergrated amp into the RCA Line In on the sub-woofer, and then Line-out to the DAC and it's working, yay :D

Edited by Zanny
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  • 4 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

Hey, it's been a couple of weeks and I'm back.  What's new is that I bought a used NAD 356bee intergrated amp from ebay and got it shipped for about $340 all up. 

 

Good price seeming it does/used to retail for $1k, just that this unit has some LEDs not working on the front and the remote control is missing.  But I just use it connected to my PC so that's not an issue.

 

So I couldn't get the T10 Temblor subwoofer working with passive speakers.  So I moved the smaller TR-1 I mentioned to my PC setup and the current audio path is PC -> FiiO E10K USB DAC -> 3.5mm to RCA cable -> Line Out on TR-1 Subwoofer -> RCA to RCA from Line In on TR-1 -> NAD 356bee amp -> speaker wire -> KEF LS50s.

 

It sounds really good, but my only issue is that the volume control knob on the NAD does not have any effect on the subwoofer.  So if I turn the bass up too high directly on the back of the sub, but then want to turn down the volume of the music, the sub keeps going. 

 

I guess I am doing something wrong and need to use the pre-out connections on the back of the amp.  But there are jumpers between the main-in and the pre-out and I don't have enough experience to figure this out. 

 

Alternatively, the sub (see picture on previous post) has high level speaker in/out but I'm not sure which way I should wire this.

 

Please help me!

Edited by Zanny
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Update: Wish a bit more research and fiddling thanks to this page I have it working properly now I think.

 

I've switch from using RCA to RCA cable to using some speaker wire and the high level inputs/outputs on the Sub.

 

PC -> FiiO E10K USB DAC -> 3.5mm to RCA cable -> NAD 356bee amp -> speaker wire -> TR-1 Sub Speaker Level IN -> speaker wire from Speaker Level OUT -> KEF LS50s.

 

Now the subwoofer level is matching the speakers!  Happy Happy Joy Joy!

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Hi, you normally need to use the high level inputs in parallel to the speakers. So each speaker terminal has two wires leading from it, one going to the speaker, the other going to high level in on the sub. 4 wires in all. 

 

Your sub might be OK the way you describe, since the sub has speaker out connections. Read the manual carefully and follow the wiring recommended in that.

 

You'll still probably adjust the sub volume independently due to differences in recordings, but once you have it set for an album you're good for that album. Hence shuffling play lists can be a pain due to each song's different bass level.

 

There is no silver bullet that means you can set and forget.

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24 minutes ago, dr_carl said:

 

There is no silver bullet that means you can set and forget.

 

 

Que??

 

The (single) sub on my #2 system is fed by R&L outputs from my preamp;  R&L outputs from the preamp also feed the amp which powers my mains (actually, standmounts).

 

So my preamp volume knob ... controls the volume coming out of my standmounts and the sub.  The sub volume control allows me to adjust the relative loudness of sub vs. standmounts.

 

The (stereo) subs on my #1 system are also fed from the preamp - so it controls their volume; the relative volume level of subs vs. mains is adjusted by the subs' volume control.

 

In both cases, I am rolling off the mains to match the roll-on of the sub(s).

 

Andy

 

Edited by andyr
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Posted (edited)

Well, my desktop setup is working well all week now, with the high level inputs/outputs, the sub levels increase and decrease to match the speakers, all controlled by the knob on the NAD amp.  

 

I also discovered, it sounds better if I leave all volume levels on the windows PC at maximum - meaning the DAC, the windows control system and individual apps, such as YouTube or MPC-HC.  As much as possible, I leave those at max now and just adjust volume with the amp knob.

 

So I think I can rest easy now that this setup is as good as it will get for the time-being without spending additional money on a better DAC, and better when talking about DAC is a topic in itself.

 

I was recently reading about the 600 XD which are active DSP floorstanders and there is an excellent review here, which helped me learn a bit more about audio: https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/reviews/dynaudio-focus-600-xd-loudspeaker-review/

 

Especially how the reviewer discussed the time coherence and how tweeters are so much faster than woofers.  Like most subjective things with audio, only by purchasing gear and listening and learning do you start to understand this in real life.  An example is how I switched from PreSonus R65s which are active studio monitors with AMT tweeters and 6.5" woofers.  When I switched to KEF LS50s which have the Uni-Q array of dual-concentric drivers, I could hear the difference.  Reading about time coherence, I think that is why I subjectively believe the LS50s are "better", even in near-field which you may assume less of an impulse response.

 

So now I am back to figuring out how to improve my home theatre.  What is missing is "audiophile-quality sonics" - At the moment I have a Pioneer VSX-932 AV receiver plugged into an Hisense 55" 55PX OLED TV and use an NVIDIA Shield to watch content which is stored primarily on my gaming PC and provided via a PLEX library and distributed over 802.11c which can handle 4K HDR streams with no issues.

 

The speakers I am currently running is all Q Acoustics gear which I purchased before I knew much about different kinds of tweeters and woofers, or frequency ranges and other things.  I have Concept 20s with stands as my fronts, and a 3090i centre and 3020i as rears.  I also have Gallo Acoustics Micro SE as my atmos heights, on top of slim IKEA shelfs.  Lastly, I have a sub-woofer plugged into the sub pre-out, namely the PreSonus T10 Temblor I mentioned in this thread previously.  

 

Yesterday I watched the Snyder cut of Justice League and the T10 makes a big difference over the Gallo Acoustics TR-1 sub, you can really feel the rumble.  The Gallo is better suited to my PC area so it was a good swap.  

 

I'm pretty settled on replacing the LCR with Wharfedale Evo gear, as I mentioned the other day here: 

 

 

As I cannot see a better deal under $3000. 

 

What my issue is, is that the Pioneer receiver does not have pre-outs besides the sub.  I think I need to budget for getting better watts to the Wharfedales before I order them.  I purchased the Concept 20s because of rave reviews, but I think that without a decent amp, they are limited and hence why I was not impressed by them, once I plugged in the R65s studio monitors.   

 

But I have already decided regardless, that my next upgrade path needs to be better LCR and move the Concept 20s to the surround position, and to do that, I need to either upgrade my AV receiver or another solution.

 

Any advice would be good.  At the moment I have the single HDMI cable going from the TV to the receiver and then to the Nvidia Shield.  I don't have any other devices like bluray player or CD/phono, or gaming console nor do I plan to.  I also don't plan to do any AAA gaming on the TV so don't need HDMI 2.1, VRR and so forth because if have a 38" Nano-IPS monitor on my PC at 3840x1600 and a 3060ti which is good enough for now.

 

I just want good watts going from the 7.1 surround using Atmos/DTS:X and similar codecs to get the best of the speakers, and at max I want to spend another $1000 or $2000 to make that happen.  I am fearful if I do a straight sale of the VSX-932 and replacement with a superior AV receiver, I will still lack the audio quality one would get from an integrated amp.  My only option seems to be to get a similar AV receiver to what I have now, about $500-$800ish new or used, but one that has pre-outs, and then get an integrated amp to run the LCR, like this one for sale in the classifieds: 

 

And here is a list of AV receivers with pre-outs: https://www.accessories4less.com/make-a-store/category/avreceiver/home-audio/receivers-amps/home-theater-receivers/1.html?home_audio_key[]=Mulit-Channel Preout

 

Whaddya think?

Edited by Zanny
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