What's a good speaker system for a Turntable?
March 27, 2010 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I am in search of a dedicated speaker system to listen to my LP's. Doesn't have to be too fancy, but I like nice sound. Any help is GREATLY appreciated.

I have a 7.1 Setup in a different room, but I would like to setup a separate "listening station" for just my records in a different, normal sized room.

I have a belt-driven Audio-Technica (mid grade) turntable and a pre-amp if needed.

I am just looking for a very simple, loud, and preferably acoustically sound setup. The smaller the better.

budget is up to 500$ but I can be talked into anything...

Thanks for your help!
posted by Kcmartin to Technology (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Budget $500. I'd start out looking at used gear. There's a flea market in my town (Vancouver) where there's always some really nice stuff going for really nice prices. The added plus is the guys doing the selling are old school hi-fi tech types who know their shit and love talking about it.
posted by philip-random at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2010

It's largely a matter of taste.

There are several design approaches to solving the problem of sound reproduction, and there used to be a "Mac-vs.-PC"-scale religious war between the advocates of acoustic suspension (sealed) and the advocates of bass reflex (ported) speakers. The religious war is largely settled, because either approach can result in a satisfying sound. (That, and the fact that acoustic suspension has been almost entirely driven from the marketplace....)

Sorry, but I don't have any particular model recommendations because I buy Serious Speakers only about once a generation, and the market changes faster than that. (Oh, but do keep in mind that Bose is the Antichrist.)

I wouldn't buy any speakers without hearing them first. Shipping them is expensive enough that it probably makes sense to buy locally.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 2:13 PM on March 27, 2010

Just my opinion but since you've got a preamp I'd go with an inexpensive T-Amp. I paired an older Super T-Amp with some Axiom Audio M3 V2s and the sound is incredible. All for $420 USD. Axiom has a 30 day trial period so if you're not happy you cand send them back.
posted by sockpup at 2:26 PM on March 27, 2010

Personally, I listen to vinyl, and (heh) digital "sources", on Martin Logans. If you can't afford Martin Logan products, try to get Magneplanar MMGs, and a solid, stable 2 channel (stereo) 50watt+ per channel solid state amp, or integrated receiver, to drive them.

Speakers are, roughly, 10x more important, economically, in the "sound" of your system, than electronics. In other words, cheap amp + good speakers = good sound, whereas great amp + cheap speakers = acoustic mud.
posted by paulsc at 2:51 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paulsc is right in general, but you do occasionally run across an amp that can make a nice pair of speakers sound like absolute crap.

I used to own a Wharfedale 2.1 setup that sounded really sweet and clean when driven by the 50W Proton amp I ended up buying, but unlistenably grating and harsh when driven by the 50W Pioneer I was considering as an alternative.

I've only ever heard Magneplanars once, and that was at an audio show maybe 25 years ago, but I do recall being impressed. Those were the huge ones, though. Never heard MMGs.
posted by flabdablet at 3:37 PM on March 27, 2010

Audiogon is a great source for this. These Infinity Kappas look like quite a good buy.

Now you say you have a pre-amp. Is it just a pre-amp, or is it an integrated amp. A pre-amp just has the volume, balance and tone controls etc. (some just volume) and boosts the signal from the phono amp to a level sufficient for a power amp use. The power amp drives the speakers. An integrated amp has both a pre and a power amp in one box. With phono there is one more complication. The output from a CD player is about 2.5 v which is sufficient to drive a pre-amp. The output from the phono cartridge is much less and you need an amp with an equalization function - a phono pre-amp. Old receivers (an integrated amp with a built in radio tuner) and integrateds used to have phono sections built in. Most modern pre-amps, receivers and integrated amps do not. If on the input dial yours has "phono" as an option then it probably has a phono section and you will not need a separate phono pre-amp. Anyway, Audiogon is a great source for amps of all flavors. The prices for used are generally about 55 to 70% of new market price for stuff that is fairly new. Older items, like the above speakers, have a higher discount. The only things I am really leery about used are turntables, CD players and other items which are predominantly moving parts. With every thing else it is just insane to buy new.
posted by caddis at 3:57 PM on March 27, 2010

Also, the modern thinking actually elevates the pre-amp and amp (especially the pre) much higher than was thought during the seventies. Putting half your budget into the speakers may no longer be the best way to go. Reasonable people can disagree over this though. In part it comes from some great advances in the speaker industry. Speakers in the last couple of decades are much more accurate than before, and accuracy is not merely frequency response, but includes phase, dispersion and a number of other factors. Anyway, speaker design has become a bit more of a science and a bit less of an art, bringing truly great speakers down to real world prices. As speakers have gained in resolution the shortcomings in amplification become more noticeable. The pre is especially an issue because it handles such low level signals and any bad things it introduces will get magnified by the power amp. If you are buying used and looking for amplification avoid at all costs any transistor amp prior to the late eighties or early nineties. Those early ones were god awful with too much negative feedback and too much odd order distortion. We humans don't like that. They lowered the overall distortion with the feedback which on paper was supposed to be great, but then the industry realized that raised the percentage of odd order distortion in comparison to even order distortion making the sound sterile and awful.
posted by caddis at 4:12 PM on March 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses people! I learned a little bit from each answer. Just to clarify I have a phono preamp that just amplifies the phono signal and passes on through 2 rca outputs.

Thanks again.
posted by Kcmartin at 6:12 PM on March 27, 2010

Get one of these, and two of these.

The PSB Alpha B1 speakers were voted Sterophile magazine's budget product of the year, and were runner-up in their 2007 Loudspeaker Of The Year, losing out to speakers that cost literally 100x more. The T-Amp is the second generation of a brilliant, brilliant budget amplifier that's currently on sale for $50.

All told, that will set you back less than $400, and you can spend ten times that for much worse results.
posted by mhoye at 6:18 PM on March 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I own a T-Amp and think it's rather overrated. If there were a version with twice the power output for twice the price, I would happily buy one.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:35 PM on March 27, 2010

Your source electronics are at least as important as your speakers. If you spend $900 on speakers and power them with a $100 amp, you will not get the benefit of $900 speakers. They will probably sound like $200 speakers. Expensive speakers can't repair the poor quality signal from a cheap amp. An expensive amp can't repair the poor quality signal from a low-bit-rate MP3. Your source is important because anything down the chain of equipment can only be as good as what came before it, never better.

The goal of a stereo system is to convey as much of the energy and information from the original performance as possible. Each process in the reproduction of sound loses a little of the essence of the performance. You want to minimize the total loss.

Even if you had perfect speakers that reproduced 100% of the essence fed to them (impossible), what good would it do if you fed them with a crappy MP3 that retained 20% of the original essence, amplified by a cheap amp that retained 30% of the essence of the MP3. 30% of 20% is 6%.

You'd be better off with a much higher quality source and much lower quality speakers.

Of course, the right thing to do is to find the optimum balance within your budget.
posted by reeddavid at 9:53 PM on March 27, 2010

"... Even if you had perfect speakers that reproduced 100% of the essence fed to them (impossible), what good would it do if you fed them with a crappy MP3 that retained 20% of the original essence, amplified by a cheap amp that retained 30% of the essence of the MP3. 30% of 20% is 6%. ..."

This isn't actually how the math works in audio equipment, for a number of reasons. To begin with, mp3 files are already compromised audio, quality compressed for storage efficiency, by computer programs which cut back bandwidth and signal quality according to prescribed rules, in an attempt to "fool" the human ear that little or nothing has been "lost" on the quality front. But at even moderate quality settings, most people can detect the loss of fidelity of mp3 coding, when compared to full range sources, in A-B source listening test. If you're interested in the very best audio quality, don't use mp3 files as sources for your listening, but if you want the convenience of storing and managing a lot of music in minimal space, and don't mind a little bit of quality loss in exchange for the convenience, then go ahead with playing mp3 files from your iPod.

Next, electronics can be built inexpensively, that deliver good power and low noise, as well as very, very low distortion, thanks to the combination of high gain electronic devices, and negative feedback. For these reasons, a $100 electronic amplifier can deliver 100 watts RMS of power, across the 20 Hz to 20Khz audio spectrum, with less than 0.1 % Total Harmonic Distortion. This is generally enough power to drive reasonably efficient speakers about as loud as a home listener would want.

However, such economies of construction remain elusive in building loudspeakers, for a number of reasons. First, it is difficult to design mechanical elements of speakers to incorporate negative feedback - it has been done, to a limited degree, and mostly with low frequency bass drivers, as a means of controlling distortion in large cone excursion sub-woofers. But for mid to high frequencies, the physics of speaker design rapidly push direct negative feedback systems into the stratospheric price range, with very little improvement in sound quality or reduction of distortion. In general, it has been found that attention to detail in loudspeaker construction, such as minimizing driver mass, providing adequate mechanical coupling of the driver to air, and managing resonances, are better ways to deliver good sound for money spent. Nevertheless, it remains more difficult to build loudspeakers with low distortion and a "flat" frequency response, than it has been, for some time, to deliver the same qualities in electronic components.

Therefore, the long standing advice to spend 2/3 to 3/4 of your budget for audio equipment on loudspeakers, remains valid in my experience.
posted by paulsc at 4:25 AM on March 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

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