Calling all hi-fi geeks – any ideas?

Apologies for the bad picture but you get the idea.

What to do?

I’ve decided to streamline the amount of stuff’ we will have on display along the ‘media wall’. In the past we had TV gizmos on one wall and Hi-Fi gizmos on the other. In the new place, whilst we have plenty of space for it all we’re going to (try) and combine it all leaving space for a nice armchair and reading lamp where the Hi-Fi would be – to the left of what’s shown in the picture.

I’m convinced this is a good idea and possible to execute but I’m struggling to decide the exact configuration and exactly what it is we need to buy. The ingredients are as follows and the idea is to try and work around the good stuff I’ve got rather than reinvent the wheel:

  1. Sony Bravia TV – a few years old but still very good so remains in place
  2. Sony Blue Ray DVD – ditto
  3. Sat decoder #1 – Cyfra+
  4. Sat decoder #2 (not in picture) – hopefully Sky when we can get a connection installed
  5. Amplifier (not in picture) – two options, either my Copland or a new one
  6. Speakers – my Vienna Acoustic (shown) + others?
  7. iPod (not in picture)
  8. Radio (not in picture) – either my Denon or incorporated in new amp
What we want to achieve is:
  • TV (satellite & DVD) with better sound than built-in speakers. Not I am avoiding the phrase “home cinema” because we don’t want speakers all over the damned place. I have a feeling that at best all we need to do is add a sub-woofer to the Vienna Acoustics, possibly a small centre speaker as well.
  • Radio & CDs (via iPod) with as good or almost as good sound as we had before.
Here’s the issues.
  1. How to connect two decoders a DVD an iPod and a radio to my Copland amp? If I can do that, will the sound then be good enough for us coming just from the two existing speakers?
  2. If the above is not the right idea – what new amp would give the Vienna Acoustics a decent signal to play with as well as handling the iPod, DVD, decoders and a couple of added cinema speakers?

I’m in love with my Copland amp and CD player, also with the Vienna Acoustic speakers and the Rega Planar turntable and would be loath to relegate them to live out their days in the cupboard that we all know is just the waiting room before the trash bin. However, compromises must be made so all the CDs and LPs have already been put in a cupboard (the shelf above the DVD collection!) and I’m in the process of ripping the few missing CDs into iTunes – obscure things things like Harry Connick Jr and Blue Note Plays the Beatles. The intention is therefore that the music collection will be played via an iPod from now on. This does leave the LPs and turntable out in the cold but there has been so little interest in them in the past years that it makes sense not to fill a room with redundant gear.

How to play the iPod then? The Copland amp is great but it’s not built for things like iPods and HDMI cable inputs. It has no USB socket and whilst I was able to get it to play the iPod through various methods none were good enough and the volume needed to be pumped way up. I don’t have it to hand right now but I think the only inputs it has are the pin-type audio cables. To the speakers it has the horse-shoe copper things – same on the speakers themselves. To solve the iPod problem a DAC is needed (Digital Analog Converter). This is a very good one but for my purposes does not have enough ins and outs to handle the iPod as well as the DVD and decoders.

The radio is easy to connect to the Copland but if I have to change the amp then it needs an integrated tuner or be able to accept a connection from the Denon.

I can’t see any way I’m going to connect a sub-woofer or centre speaker to the Copland. Even if I could it can’t de-code the channels from the DVD so would not know where to send what sound. So if we stick with the Copland we’re stuck with only two speakers, albeit good ones.

As I write this I am coming to the conclusion that the Copland needs too much tweaking to be of any use below the TV so the question 2 above looks like being the right one to which I need an answer.

I’ve investigated things like the Bose Lifestyle 235 / 135 systems and the only thing that really impressed me was the 11,000 PLN price tag. Looking around the low-end hi-fi shops you have a massive range of kino-domowy systems from what used to be very good names like Yamaha, Marantz, Onkyo, Denon and so on that appear to do everything you could possibly want and come with plenty of speakers some of them also by ex-good names like Wharfedale. You can pick these up for anything between 1,500 and 4,000 PLN.

If I buy a new amp and plug everything including a few more speakers, will it play music just out of my VA speakers or will it want to play it out of all of them?

Too many questions. My head hurts.


27 thoughts on “Calling all hi-fi geeks – any ideas?

  1. Loads! Some are even utterable in public.

    On a more serious note: a new Mac Mini with an Apple Remote, a wireless keyboard and XBMC (media centre software) coupled with a fairly sizable drive (2TB minimum). Keep all of your films, tv programmes, picture and music all in one easily-accessible location. The Mini has an HDMI port on it so it’s dead easy to hook up to your TV. I can’t tell from your setup there if you have a 5.1 or 7.1 sound system but if you do it’ll work seamlessly.

    I’ve got this exact setup at home and it works great. In particular, guests seem to enjoy seeing photo slide shows on the TV – I’ve formatted a selection of pictures to fit properly on it. A bit of music in the background and a healthy selection of photos set on random and you’ve got a nice little conversation piece. We also use it for music for parties.

    Oh and a PS3 in there wouldn’t hurt, either. :)

  2. You should definitely !!! try home cinema “speakers all over the place”.

    I have got this

    great price/quality

    TV, speakers, reciever, sat decoders is all you need.

    All the other things should be hidden somewhere. If i were you, i would replace this really nice -but totally unfunctional- indian furniture with something like that

    If M does not like it, buy a nice lamp for her. It looks great on such a board.

  3. We had the rack but prefer the unfunctionality of the indian trunk!

    I’m going to check out the Harman Kardon stuff in Media Markt. Looks promising.

  4. Oh and P & I did do a 5.1 speaker set up. Even though the speakers are tiny (golf ball-sized!) they put out reasonable sound… but we had two of the speakers, the “rear” speakers, mounted before the floors and painting was done so you can’t see the wires.

    Next time you and the famdamily are in town you oughta swing by our place.

  5. my 2 cents …I agree about the trunk, I think you need to get something to complement the flat screen and pull it all together. …something black and shiny.

  6. I’ve investigated things like the Bose Lifestyle 235 / 135 systems and the only thing that really impressed me was the 11,000 PLN price tag. Looking around the low-end hi-fi shops you have a massive range of kino-domowy systems from what used to be very good names like Yamaha, Marantz, Onkyo, Denon
    If I buy a new amp and plug everything including a few more speakers, will it play music just out of my VA speakers or will it want to play it out of all of them?

    Too many questions. My head hurts.

    1. Do not buy BOSE !

    read this

    2. Yamaha, Marantz, Onkyo, Denon are (IMO) good for home cinema but not for music. Their Music-mode sounds (IMO) flat. Harman Kardon is (IMO) the best compromise between great “round warm” stereo music and “crisp (?) dynamic” home cinema sound.

    3. If you buy a new amp, you can of course use your nice vienna speakers for the stereo-music mode and if you watch a movie, then you can change into surround mode and use

    – two small surround,
    – a center
    – and your big vienna speakers.

    You do not really need a subwoofer. Your vienna speakers go down to 32Hz. ? That’s absolutely enough.

  7. As an aside, since you’ll be using your iPod in place of CDs, you might want to give some thought to the import settings for iTunes to use when you add CDs to your library. Since you’re putting the effort into getting the hardware right, the difference in sampling rates and encoding can be dramatic. If you’re interested, I can e-mail you a couple of samples (the “Sanctus” from Mozart’s Requiem) one encoded as an MP3 at a rate of 256 kbps, the other using AAC at the same rate. The MP3 version has noticeable distortion and errors. The brass seems to get mushy and lost in the vocals, instead of standing out as they do with the AAC version. I bought both of these online. Now I need to get ahold of the CD and see if I can detect the difference between 256 and 320 AAC.

    iTunes uses AAC by default. The only good reason I can think of to use MP3 instead is if you or your family have MP3 players that don’t accept AAC. Otherwise AAC is superior to MP3 at the same sampling rate (although some argue against this.) Depending on when it shipped, your Mac default sampling is either 128 or 256. 128 in either format is definitely too low.

    If you listen to classical or any music really with a quick changes in dynamics, this is worth paying attention to.

    There is a Stanford professor who surveys incoming students each year about sound quality. Interestingly, the generation that grew up with MP3 players actually prefer the music with compression errors and artifacts! Oh well – at least they don’t need to spend 11,000 PLN on a system to get the sound they like:

  8. Interesting. I agree the problem is finding something that handles music as well as it does movies/TV. The demo of the Bose thing was acceptable for a movie but terrible for music (compared to what we have).

    Actually, frequency range for my speakers is 35 – 22000 Hz. 6 Ohms impedance and 90 dB sensitivity. They are over 10 years old so the ones on the website are a slightly newer model. Still sound great but I think would benefit from a sub-woofer to catch those rumbling explosion sounds so many movies have these days. Would need to be one that only does the very low tones though and does them well. We can hear, roughly, between 20-20,000 Hz and I think for movies particularly the gap between 20-35 might be important.

    Is a centre speaker important? Is this mainly for voice?

  9. DC, thanks but I’d already paid attention to that one. I’m importing at ACC iTunes Plus, which is 256 kbps. I’ve read a lot about the improvement you get with AAC versus mp3. It is a bit of a pain when a friend wants a CD with some of your music and can’t play AAC but that doesn’t happen very often.

    I didn’t always pay so much attention to this though so I need to go back and check some of the favourites to see what they were imported at.

  10. I like the looks of both of those although I’m a little worried about the 7,000 connections at the back!

    I need to see them in the flesh – if I can actually buy them somewhere in Warsaw of course.

    Wondering about iPod connection. Presumably it will do the appropriate conversion and amplification of signal from iPod. With H-K they have a dock so I guess that’s the way to go with them. Also wondering about the copper U connections for the speakers because my speakers don’t have anywhere to “plug” things.

    Also thinking which model is needed and actually what the main differences are between them – say the AVR 760 versus the 360 – as there is quite a difference in price and it’s silly to pay for stuff I won’t use.

  11. 1. Yes, and Yamaha RX-A1010 seems to handle music/cinema even better than the (smaller)Harman Kardon models. Which i did not know before, sorry .

    2. Yes, you can of course buy a nice 20-35Hz subwoofer, but it is IMO not that important. You can buy it later. At the beginning a sub is great, but after a while (a couple of months) it becomes “too much”, and causes more headache than fun.

    3. Centre (yes, mainly for voice) speaker on the other hand is VERY important. It is IMO the most important speaker and a real difference maker (Movies, TV, vocal songs).

  12. Update. Bought the Yamaha RX A2010 today. Currently reading the manual and with luck will have it set up and running over the weekend.

    Holding off buying subwoofer and centre for the time being. The shop selling the amp only had really good quality stuff and don’t intend to spend that kind of money on enhancing movies – if I buy them at all. Lets see what I can get out of the Viennas first.

  13. 1. Now, I am jealous. ! :D

    2. quote: “don’t intend to spend that kind of money on enhancing movies.”

    Good decision.

    It really makes no sense to pay too much money for this kind of stuff (home cinema-reciever/speakers). Ears adapt pretty quickly to this “new” “surround” sound and the difference between “good/average” and “very good” stuff becomes way to small to overpay.

    But nevertheless you should still —at a reasonable price — buy a centre (~150 EUR) and two small surround (2x ~100 EUR) speakers. It is really more than worth it.

  14. If you need to avoid home cinema, and to my thought “god knows why” Bose Acoustimass 15. Small and compact enough as to not know they are there, but it is a “home cinema”. Alternatives for those anal enough not to want to view them a Yamaha s401 or better. Personally I see nothing wrong with a good pair of speakers, and upgrade the TV. Say Samsung 8 series.

  15. Having now tried the 2010 for a couple of days it is clear that the system, just using the two “front” speakers is 90% there already – for our needs.

    It plays music very well indeed from either the radio, iPod or turntable. Not as well as the Copland but well enough not to bug me. I think DVD/TV playback would benefit slightly from a subwoofer and a centre speaker so I’m on the hunt for those. It’s not easy though because buying ‘separates’ means going to a top-end shop and paying related prices. So far all I can see that everyone else is selling is packages of an amp, DVD and 500 speakers all pretty average stuff. Yamaha would be good as I believe in trying to match the components as much as possible but the only subwoofers I’ve seen from them are either GIGANTIC things like the NS-SW700 or ones that don’t go any lower frequency than the speakers I’ve got already. The guy had a nice B&W one but it was 2,800 zlots, way more than I want to pay for the benefit it will give me.

    We really don’t want surround speakers. To put them at the front is not necessary to put them at the rear or sides is not possible without cables straight across the main “walkway” of our lounge – and that’s not going to happen.

  16. I haven’t read all the comments, but some general reactions. Home cinema surround sound is essential to me for films. The problem is not speakers everywhere, but the wires. I put in skirting with wire holding capability, but wireless speakers are back in fashion.

    I have an old Sony Home cinema DVD system, which has sound better than any hifi system I ever bought. The speakers are attractive and look like furniture, rather than the traditional speaker shown in your picture. I don’t have the money to replace it and would be scared to do so, but I cannot use it for 5.1 sound from anything other than the DVDs it plays, so HD satellite sound is of limited value. It cannot even play DVD MP3s. When it fails, I will be looking for a Blu Ray home cinema replacement. I don’t want the bulk of multipile units. This will include a radio, as normal.

    We’ve just got a TV with MPEG 4 satellite decoder, but we need to get the CI adaptor to make CYFRA + work directly from the TV. When we do, and if it works, goodbye decoder.

    I don’t know what IPod offers, but I looked today at a Blu Ray player (Panasonic?) that had an Ipod slot. I’d prefer to get normal hard drive connectivity for the surround sound system. (An MP3 DVD gives some 48 hours of music, anyway.)

    The basics are reduced to a TV, Blu Ray surround sound system unit and wireless speakers. A mini hard drive (800 gb for 400zl from Media Markt) will be a desireable extra for playing music and saving progammes for later use. These would look attractive on you unit.

  17. The iPod is simply a way of holding your entire CD collection in one small device and then making it easier to find the one you want and play it.

    So far we’ve got over 5,000 songs, about 15 days worth of non-stop music, on it and it is roughly half full. Quality of playback is hard to distinguish from playing a CD on anything other than very high quality equipment.

  18. Hi Scatts,

    Nice blog you have put together.

    You can definitely keep the quality you have come to expect from your Vienna Acoustics and Copland system and simplify your life. All you need is a digital to analog converter that has the right combination of digital inputs that you need. That’s it. I’d suggest the Peachtree Audio iDac. It has digital iPod dock on top, two optical inputs, 2 coaxial inputs and one usb, and it sounds great.


    Patrick Butler
    Vienna Acoustics- North America

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s