Prepare to be jealous.
Buying audio equipment is a fun, but dangerous game. Not just the prices. Cheap stuff has to be replaced and is a total waste of money (Buying cheaper stuff and compromising in the name of saving a buck is usually a poor person’s game, but that’s another post). Medium range stuff has a better lifespan and quality but often is loaded with features you don’t need, trying to compete with all the many, many other mid-range components out there. You’re paying for those features, even if you never use them ever is how I look at it. And I’d bet most people don’t use 95% of the features their electronics offer. I’ve noticed most females don’t even bother to change the treble and bass on their stock car stereos, in fact. Whatever.
But the high-end stuff, and I’m not just talking about the out-of-this-world dream stuff that only billionaires can listen to and 99.9999% of people will never see, can last forever. Even pretty beaten up, some loudspeakers will still sound fine. That’s why there’s a strong market for used high-end audio equipment like Marantz receivers and Klipsch Heritage speakers, and partially why they cost more: they live longer. That even includes Sony, which costs more and lasts forever, even if it isn’t the highest quality and you may not want it to. Please don’t get me wrong; I consider Sony as a baseline for middle-of-the-road, discounting their flagship stuff. Not saying they’re high-end–their stuff just lasts forever, and has a premium price. They do make some seriously amazing electronics, but most is for the masses. “Lifespan” referring to how long the unit operates and “quality” being how well it performs during that time.
I have a giant old-school Sony Trinitron television I’m donating now for example that still works great but we’ve outgrown it. This will be the second giant old Sony TV I’ve given to another home. They’re tanks, and weigh as much. And I also still have an old Sony home theater system with 5 DVD carousel that has proprietary connectors so I can’t split it up, and have nowhere I want to use it. So it gathers dust. And (most) Marantz and (most) Klipsch are examples what I’m calling high-end. It’s all relatively relative, so if that’s junk to your budget, then please bear with me. I’m well-aware of the higher end gear that I wished I could afford out there. A Peachtree Nova300 Amp and SVS PB-16 sub and Klipschorn speakers would be my preference, but I have mouths to feed and heinies to diaper.
So back to business. Somehow I’ve ended up with a 5.1 Energy Encore home theater system with a Sony STR-DE885 A/V processor as my stereo.
The sound is actually great(I’m not claiming audiophile standards, which I’m starting to believe is usually just someone with a lot of disposable income, an oscilloscope, and an attitude), and in fact excessive for my listening area, which happens to be my office as well. Excessive space-wise as well. Most of my large desk is covered in audio equipment. Cable management is a pain too in such a small space. You think it’d be easier, but you have to be creative with placement, and more importantly, how they’re hidden, yet secure. And since I’m using the same cables I used when the system was being used for a home theater system in a giant room years ago, I have miles of dirty cables piled up in corners and under chairs and rugs.
Happily, this system will be returning to service in a way it never dreamt and going in the master bedroom with a new 65 inch curved 4k tv for my wife. I’m planning on mounting the screen on the wall too, which I’m dreading. And I splurged and got a Blu-ray player for her as well. It blows our old DVD players away. And cost $42.00 shipped (I had a $5 Amazon credit). The old Panasonic RV-31 of which we have 2 and I’m donating one, work surprisingly well still and are still forward-compatible and have optical jacks, but no HDMI ports. As nicely as those still work, the new one still blows those away for modern quality and features and for $40+ it’s a no-brainer. (I don’t know why electronics firms still make Blu-ray or especially DVD players; what kind of margins are they getting for these things? You can even still buy VCRs, for about $20 made by Craig, who is obviously low-end and a brand I think I’ve seen sold at Walgreens pharmacy.)
What makes me more excited is that I got everything (well) below retail, and with bonuses, that I hadn’t even planned on, like white glove delivery, a free wall mount, extra warranties, etc… I never pay retail for anything ever, unless it’s an emergency and even then I get discounts from my banks and other creative ways so I still pay less than sticker price, always. It’s become pretty easy with the internet, but some things are far more difficult to find discounts on than others, usually higher-end products where the companies are serious about protecting their margins and their products from counterfeiters. Barbour jackets and Bose junk are examples of that.
OK, so enough blah blah; what’d I get?
I’m finding I’m using my computer as the source nearly all the time these days. Either Pandora Plus(which is worth it for the quality improvement, no ads and being able to FF/RW maneuver around all I want), Archive.org, Youtube (I embarrassingly admit) or from my own library which usually plays via VLC. A lot of streaming in other words, and nothing else really; certainly no turntable, DAT, cassette tape(I still have a working JVC from 1984), reel to reel etc… and I never listen to the radio so no tuner needed either. I either just need an amp/preamp or integrated amp. For space, cost, features needed, quality available, outputs available (many integrated amps, even some Marantz, have no sub output or optical input, and I don’t just mean headphone amps). So the field for amps narrowed quickly. The final contenders: The questionable Sprout and Denon which are both compact amps, and a Teac, which is what I ended up getting. I’ve never owned Teac before but am very familiar with their R2Rs. The Sprout looks like something Radio Shack would have sold with the cheap faux-wood vinyl sticker(that everyone else seems to love), and is either underpowered or overpriced. Your choice. The Denon looks awesome and I nearly bought it. But the wattage difference and double the price of the Teac made me choose the Teac at 100w vs. the Denon and Sprout which had 35w and ~26w, respectively. I know wattage isn’t everything and this is a majorly low-impedance system, but I’m going to be driving some big speakers and those are a big leap from 100watts. The Teac has everything I need and among the least of what I don’t. An equalizer is something I’ll probably end up getting since I can’t imagine everything not needing to be tweaked, and using online EQs isn’t ideal, to me.
I’m running an optical cable from my computer, which has a 5.1 sound card (which I’ll adjust) and some auditory tweaks I’ve made to the Teac integrated amplifier, with DAC of course. That keeps it simple and small on my desk and has just what I need. The theme of this system is “simplification and quality.” I’m going from a 5.1 system to a 2.1 again. I looked at more expensive, feature-rich options, and really tried to talk myself into a Marantz or Cambridge Audio amp, but they didn’t make sense for one reason or another. Mostly size and features; I already have a giant black box on my desk with a zillion cables and controls that would confuse Elon Musk, so replacing it with exactly the same=no good. I have a feeling I’ll eventually be getting an EQ though because of what I expect the tweaking process to be like using the Teac software. That doesn’t sound like something I’m going to be interested in. EDIT: I’ve looked high and low at EQs and there aren’t any for my purpose; they’re all for PA equipment and autos. So, software it is. EDIT#2: The speakers and amp sound so clean, I don’t need software or to make any adjustments to the sound. Just the gain and crossover frequency on the sub and common audio tweaks in my OS and a preference for “loudness” and that’s it. It sounds realistic with a broad, deep, well-defined soundstage. The amp comes with an HD audio player that they REALLY try to get you to use. I was eager to give it a try and discovered it’s junk.
The sources I typically have are high bit rate mp3’s, and a lot of Pandora and Spotify premium, with settings on extreme. And of course, Youtube and the other junk everyone uses. I’ve used every medium out there over the years, mostly because I’ve had to, and the hassle of vinyl and tape and even CDs isn’t worth the quality difference, to anyone who claims to be able to hear one. You’d have to really try with some good, trained ears and a really good system and even then, it’s pretty subjective. The only people who are into records these days are lazy butts who never got rid of their collection from when they were stoner teenagers or hipsters with a big new income that don’t know what they’re doing.
The Teac’s connected to a Klipsch R-112SW which is a Reference series 12-inch sub that I already have hooked up and looks like a giant piece of black furniture. It has to be broken in, but it still sounds a lot better than most of my other furniture though. I was wondering what difference a “better” sub would make to a pretty decent, but nowhere nearly as powerful system as the reference series, would be. Turns out a lot. Not WOW!, but a big enough difference to make a big, noticeable difference. Bass frequencies are different animals because they’re omnidirectional. I didn’t get the 115SW because a 15-inch sub would be totally excessive for my current needs. The bass is tight and precise, not muddy or furry. Or boomy, which is a typical problem people have with subs. Although subtle, my wife can now sense the bass frequencies 2 floors away when I have the 112SW turned up a little which I’ll have to be careful of at night or naptime. Plus the 15-inch sub, which must be MASSIVE, would have more than doubled my price for the 112SW. With some of the money I saved, I got a Klipsch wireless adapter (WA-2) for the sub so I can put it where it sounds best and has no cables(except the power of course). It’s too nice-looking to have a long cable running out of it and as I mentioned I’m simplifying. There are quite a few wireless sub adapters out there, and even though the WA-2 isn’t the cheapest or best-rated in the world, depending on what site you’re on–it’s 5 of 5 stars and rave reviews on Klipsch.com– it’s custom-made by Klipsch for the 112SW and 115SW models, which I’ve learned is often a valuable feature and renders it the best choice. I never considered wireless satellite or bookshelf speakers because there’s no way I can be convinced there isn’t signal loss and/or other quality compromises that I don’t want to make, even if some high-quality firms are making them now. Most wireless speakers lack character as well and are boring. Since sub frequencies aren’t directional, I’m not as worried.
There are quite a few wireless sub adapters out there of the universal breed, and even though the WA-2 isn’t the cheapest or best-rated in the world on some websites(no reasons were given for poor reviews, and I doubt they were by verified purchasers), depending on what site you’re on–it’s 5 of 5 stars and rave reviews on Klipsch.com– it’s custom-made by Klipsch for the 112SW and 115SW models, which I’ve learned is often a valuable feature and renders it the best choice. Especially when if you ever want to resell them. I never considered wireless satellite or bookshelf speakers because there’s no way I can be convinced there isn’t signal loss and/or other quality compromises that I don’t want to make, even if some big-name, high-quality firms are making them now. Most wireless speakers lack character as well and are boring in every way. Since sub frequencies aren’t directional, I’m not as worried. Wireless satellites are great solutions for setting up home theaters in rooms with weird layouts.
Klipsch is a brand I’m loyal to. I heard a pair of Klipschorns when I was a teenager, which is also what we had in our music department in high school, and my roommate in high school had some giant, groovy 1970s Klipsch speakers he yanked from his older brother as well, although I don’t remember the model. Heritage, though for sure, so possibly Cornwalls. Whatever they were, they shamed my bookshelf Advents, which I hated. No mids at all and barely any bass. So I was exposed to some really good audio right after growing up to that point with a furniture-sized console tuner/turntable from the 1960s and a lame transistor AM radio from Radio Shack. My music selection for the longest time was limited to my mother’s old classic and classical records and the terrible pop radio station in town playing terrible pop 1970s and 1980s music. (“Terrible” is redundant.) So hearing what high-quality audio could do was like hearing music for the very first time. Hearing it play music I loved was transformative, especially for someone who came to really enjoy listening to and making music as much as I do. And now I can even choose what I want to hear!
I finally got my hands on a pair of nice (used) Klipsch KG-4 speakers when I was in my 20’s and had them promptly stolen from my house in Atlanta, along with a bunch of other easily pawnable items I had grown fond of. I used the insurance $ from the Atlanta heist to get the Energy speakers and AV processor that are turning our bedroom into a man-cave for my wife. Energy is a company in Canada that isn’t super well-known but makes some very good equipment despite their obscurity and cheesy name. They’ve certainly become a lot more established since I bought them 20 years ago even though they’re still a pretty small and obscure audio company.
I have a Klipsch Groove Bluetooth speaker for my shop, or kitchen, or backyard, or wherever; it’s super-handy and sounds really good for what it is. I love it, and they’re available for a good deal at World Wide Stereo, which is a great company, if interested. I’ve also had several pairs of Klipsch Promedia 2.1‘s for my computers over the years. They’re the best computer speakers out there in my opinion and have been for years, which is why they’ve been unchanged for so long. The price, too: stuck at $150. Some would say Harmon/Kardon Soundsticks are better, but they don’t sound as good to me. They look cooler though; there’s no denying that. (Until you quickly get tired of how cool they look.) The Promedia 2.1s sound great for computer speakers but aren’t without faults, which Klipsch should have addressed by now. The speaker wire is a joke that comes with them. Klipsch shouldn’t even include wires if this is the best they can do. So you have to special order some decent cables. Also, the power switch is on the back of the sub and is totally inaccessible. The jack for the sub connector is really flimsy too, so watch for people tugging on it. That may sound crazy, but 2 (TWO!) sets of these were ruined by my stepdaughter poking her fingers into the woofer cones and someone, maybe my dog, tripping over the sub cord. So that was the end of buying those. Also, you can buy just the control pod for them from Klipsch which makes me think it might go out a little too often. I had no problems with mine. What I’m setting up is basically my own extreme version of the Promedia 2.1.
So as you can see, acquiring Klipsch speakers hasn’t been the real problem; keeping them working and in my possession has been the issue. You have to play defense I’ve learned when you have small children and reckless teenagers around. Epoxy those grilles on.
Something I just learned is that Klipsch seems to have acquired Energy at some point over the years after I bought those Energy speakers. I find that amazingly cool and vindicating for buying such an obscure brand because of purely sensory reasons. They look really nice as well. The Klipsch Group includes Klipsch, of course, Energy, Mirage and Jamo. Not exactly household names, but some fairly premium stuff at their high-end models.
This time around I sprang for a pair of cherry Klipsch Heresy III‘s, which should pair with the R-112SW nicely. The best of both worlds. Old-school Heritage series speakers and New-school Reference series subwoofer living together in actual harmony. A 2.1 setup with an integrated amp and single optical input source. That’s as simple as it gets. And some killer soldered 12 gauge cables from Amazon. I found a local contact that is delivering the Heresy 3’s to my home office white glove, fresh from the Klipsch factory for $500 off and no sales tax. And I live out in the country. Swish! As an aside, what I’d really like is the special edition California walnut Heresys, but they’re the same sound-wise and would be $925 more, even with my newfound Klipsch hookup, which I just couldn’t talk myself into. Even though that was the exact amount I ended up saving by looking under every rock possible when putting this system together.
Something I found incredible is that the dealer I bought the speakers from said in 7 years I was the third customer he’s had. And one of the others was from Indianapolis. He said Louisville won’t support a high-end audio store. People around here would rather watch TV and spend their budget on screens from Sam’s and best Buy instead of very at high-def audio dealers who usually can’t afford to keep a respectable and updated inventory. And he’s right.
And I’ll be using the same speaker stands from my first set of Klipsch’s I had which I’ve still been lugging around with me. Full-circle!
May 28: OK; I’ve had the system running almost nonstop for a few weeks now and have some thoughts of course.
Here’s a photo of the setup. I usually have this office very very dim, so I didn’t have the best lighting.
As you can see, the speakers are in place, and although I cleaned and updated the speaker stands, you can’t see them. Doesn’t matter; even if I get a glimpse of them, they’re still better than seeing a stack of cinder blocks. And floor placement, which they have the risers for, isn’t a possibility or desired.
The speaker placement creates a great sound stage. If you close your eyes, you have the best seat in the house. And they are incredible sounding, with the sub and the amp. You can see the little amp to the left of the monitor, and the remote on the left side of my desk mat-thing. And the amp is LOUD. The headphone jack and circutry work great and sound amazing. Having an upgraded DAC somewhere in your computer setup really is necessary.
Something I learned along the way was that this Teac amp is actually 26w, and I had seen it listed at 100w. That was wrong, but I found out too late. I was worried I’d be disappointed, but I’m not at all. I learned a lot about audiology, I guess is the word, when putting this system together. Wattage isn’t everything. Impedance is important, as is whether you’re at 4 or 8 ohms, and a few other technical issues that you need to know for things to work properly together and produce optimal sound. The Mhz and bit rate of your sources need to be checked once installed for example.
I can’t say enough good things about the speakers and the sound, except any improvement in any way would be super-expensive and extremely marginal. They put you right there where whatever you’re listening to was recorded. Ideal. The 12 gauge Mediabridge cables look very cool with them too. They’re very big and very heavy. The speakers and the cables.
The best way to care for the cabinets, in case anyone wonders how to care for such types of finished wood, is definitely not Pledge, lemon oil, or Murphy’s. Pledge and Murphy’s being the worst stuff for wood around. Lemon oil is great for some finishes and woods, and some people report happiness using it on their speaker cabinets. I use it a lot of some of our furniture. But Watco Danish oil natural is the best thing for these and is also exactly what I use to treat and coat my workbench top with. Great stuff. Tung oil could probably be used too but I know the Danish oil works, and I don’t want my speakers to be guinea pigs.
The Teac amp is great but with some annoyances. Neither digital readout nor illuminated dials were something I had considered but in my office, where I keep it as dim as a tomb, I can’t see where the volume is or anything else, really. It’s all analog. Which wouldn’t be that big of a deal except I have other people in the house to consider. The amp, as I said, is LOUD. And the volume knob isn’t motorized, which some people complain about. I can see their grievance now. I’ve never not had a motorized volume knob, but the difference between when you use the remote and the knob isn’t equalized smoothly when automatically adjusted. Picking nits here, I realize. Like the fact their software stinks, which you pretty much have to download, unless you’re into maintaining your own drivers. It was an afterthought. The driver works well, but the HD media player that comes with it is trash. The player has to be used with a USB cable while it’s running, is outdated from the get-go, and doesn’t work well, if at all. It’s no-frills, which would be fine, but I never had any success with it all, but I don’t care. VLC is far better. Anything is far better, honestly. And I aim to not have any more cables than necessary, and a USB for a crummy piece of software I won’t use isn’t one. If I were the product manager of a product made for streaming data from the internet and for people who typically aren’t technophobes, I would make quite sure I had some appropriate software. Especially if you expect users to use it as much as Teac seems to. End of rant. It doesn’t make the amp itself any worse.
The Bluetooth feature of it is awesome. It works well and pairs easily and the sound is fine. If there’s an infinitesimal reduction in quality for some reason, I can’t pick out where it is. I use an optical cable running through a Sound Blaster sound card, then through the computer’s processor which I’ve optimized as well. I think people probably often forget that step. A lot of settings have to be adjusted for best performance in hidden little OS menus here and there.
Although I was already looking for an equalizer, the Teac amp is more than adequate, and the quality is so good as-is, I can’t see the need for anything else. I don’t want it running through a bunch of sound “enhancing” software, effects, or anything more than I absolutely need to. I wouldn’t even know where to start to improve it at this point, really. Without spending a fortune and ending up with an entirely new system. The only few issues I have could be fixed, but I already know the next steps up are from what I have and it’s a doozie price-wise. It’s why I didn’t get them instead. This stuff is like guitars; you’re always in search of the perfect one, or one that’s just a little bit different and maybe better in some indescribable way. The system I have is almost zero impedance. Source-to-ear is as short as I can get it. High-quality sources, high-quality equipment, arranged ideally. Maybe one day we can transmit such things to the correct parts of our brains inductively but until then… I think I’m done. For now.
EDIT: Not long after I wrote this, my Energy speakers fell apart. Literally. They’re about 20 years old, yes, but they’ve been well-cared for. However, the glue that holds the front of the speakers to the housing failed. In addition, the plastic “rim” that also is responsible for keeping the tweeters and cones in place cracked all the way around, specifically with the center speaker, causing the front of the speaker to become detached. I repaired them as best as I could with some appropriate glue and clamps, but my confidence has been shaken as to their longevity. Just something to note.
EDIT: (6/15/2018) The TEAC DAC/Amplifier has been OK for the past year, but I’ve not been overly happy with it. The Bluetooth is terrible. The range is about 6 feet, and there’s a noticeable difference between using Bluetooth as a source and a USB cable. So, with the lame range, I end up using a USB cable more often than not, which defeated the point of why I got that Amp.
In any case, I’m rejiggering my audio setup. The Sony receiver I’ve had for so long is on the way out. It still works great, but after 100 years of using it, I’m retiring it. If I ever set up a home theater, I’ll break it out again, because that’s what it was made for, not providing killer audio.
So I set out on a hunt. I wanted a Marantz. But none of their units met what I wanted, and I looked at all models. That was disappointing. I zeroed in on a Cambridge Audio Amp, which fit the bill. 8 ohms, 60 watts, has a sub connector, can handle 2 sets of speakers and has an awesome (Wolfson) DAC. Plus a lot more. So I got a Cambridge CXA60. And it indeed is awesome. There’s a HUGE difference. The clarity and sense of presence that you have when listening to anything through it and the Klipsch Heresy’s is realistic. I also got a Bluetooth adapter, which has an amazing range, is super-versatile, and cost less than the Cambridge BT-100 that integrates with my new amp, but there’s nothing special about it. And buying things that are proprietary have bitten me in the past. Think: Sony connectors.
So, that’s a very solid setup. The only upgrade I can envision at this point is a MacIntosh tube amp I’m eyeing, but that will be a special purchase. Those things aren’t cheap.
I’m also planning on getting another pair of bookshelf speakers to hook up to the Cambridge cxa60. Wharfedale Dentons are what I’m getting, which I can’t wait to break in.
And I guess while I’m at it, I may as well mention that I upgraded my Sony alarm clock/iPhone alarm with a Yamaha desktop stereo/clock/alarm. It sounds REALLY good and has an app allowing you to set an alarm for every day of the week, and do all sorts of fancy things. And it looks really cool in green, I think. Like it’s military-issued. Its Bluetooth range is impressive as well. It’s almost TOO good; I’ll play something on YouTube on my laptop, and it’ll connect all the way down the hall across the house. It sounds better than the Bose Wave radio for sure, to mention a unit it would compete with. I hate Bose. The reasons? Because they don’t reproduce sound authentically; they manipulate sound. They also are WAY overpriced because of their marketing budget. I’ll bet half of what you pay for when you buy a Bose product is going to pay for their marketing. And their stuff isn’t very durable on top of it all. Don’t buy Bose.