Speakers for home audio around £300

bc5

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I'm partly after recommendations, but also on good starting points for thoroughly researching this. Can anyone recommend a good audio hardware forum? Obviously Tom's is a bit more computer hardware-focused. Also, any good UK retailers and good sites for professional reviews of this kind of thing? Thanks for the guidance.
 
avsforum
audioholics forum
hometheaterforum

toms is a bit more computer centric however there are some users here with knowledge of home theater systems. americanaudiophile and myself to name a few.

as far as reviews... it can be rather hit or miss. there are sites which list some products in the spotlight which are good however there are likely many products which are good but never show up. honestly i suggest reading a professional review for everything which gets good reviews on amazon. often using google you can find one.

for $300usd you could get the energy take classic 5.1 speaker system which has good reviews despite the low cost. you would need a receiver or amplifier though at a little additional cost.

if you want anything more than that you would need to provide details such as...

--what for? movies, games, music
--how many channels?
--new or used?
--what size room
--abolute maximum budget
 

bc5

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Thanks for your reply! I've already signed up to avsforum.com and avforums.com, though haven't received a massive response. I'll try the other two you suggest also. I think a problem with speakers is that they seem much less international than computer hardware. British retailers are selling British brands while American retailers are selling American brands. Here I'm looking at Tannoy, Mordaunt Short, Wharfedale, Bowers & Wilkins etc which American audiophiles are probably largely unaware of.

Amp recommendations could be really handy though. Apparently I need to match impedance / ohms on the speakers to the impedance of the amp? And even of the wiring? Also, how does a receiver differ from an amp or AVR? To answer your questions:

- 99% music.
- 2 speakers probably.
- New.
- Pretty standard-sized front room (no dimensions, sorry :))
- £350.
 
you are correct...its hard to recommend specifics for overseas but at least we can make general recommendations which are helpful. while brand knowledge doesnt cross over general knowledge does.

i've heard of tannoy and wharfdale. there is actually another post ($1500 budget) who bought some wharfdales after i recommended them and is happy as a pig in....... well you know. honestly for stuff i'm not familiar about i go on reviews (lots of them) just as you would so it saves time when the OP (you) does some research on their own too.

from my browsing for other threads... tannoy makes a good budget set... and warfale diamonds are absolutely awesome for the high end stuff. never heard about the others though (i'd have to research them just as you would).

a budget of $350gbp is about $559usd. i know we can get wharfdale 10.1 (bookshelf speakers, pair) for about $350 without much trying so you can likely got one of the diamond 10 models for cheaper and still have some change left over for an amp (about $200usd or more for us which is fair you can probably have more left over since you are from overseas). good sound for your budget.

as far as an amp is concerned.... its true that you have to keep in mind the impedence. this speaker lists 6ohm and a recommended 60-100w capability. i'd recommend something that can do 100w at 6ohm at minimum. speaker sensitivity comes into play and i admit that i'm not an expert but 100w on a decent quality amp should be fine

as far as wire is concerned see the chart on here
http://www.roger-russell.com/wire/wire.htm

if you are close to the maximum run... step it up a wire gage

an avr is a receiver (audio video receiver). an avr has an amplifier included inside but also has other hardware as well. if you have any video passthrough its probably worthwhile to go receiver if you have multiple inputs. if you only have one source though an amplifier is better because its cheaper. note: super high end systems use both amplifiers and receivers in tandem... not very familiar with that high end but it gets pretty nuts (and expensive). i personally use an avr in my $1500 system and it works great.
 

bc5

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Thanks for the advice! So what does the AVR add compared to an amp? Just more types of inputs?

You might be surprised how prices compare. Just for your knowledge with computer hardware, you're typically looking at $1 being worth £0.75 (instead of the actual exchange rate of around £0.60). This is due largely to the excessive amount of tax we have to pay and most states getting a pretty awesome deal taxwise. With a lot of stuff *cough*nVIDIA*cough* you'll even be looking at £0.80 to $1.

But for speakers, I'm sorry to say that the British speaker brands are seriously ripping you off. Mordaunt Short's Mezzo 6 were costing $2000 Stateside (according to American reviews) and can be had here for £300. So you Americans are probably better off not buying our stuff :) Or at least not without checking first what it costs here. The Wharfedales don't seem as bad in that regard - Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s here are going for £150. For £300 you're looking at 10.4 or 10.5.

Just to clarify on the amp / receiver, what are the risks or drawbacks of not matching impedance / wattage? I heard that amp impedance exceeding speaker impedance can damage the amp? What about the other way round? In terms of flexibility too it would be nice to buy an amp and speakers of a very typical wattage / impedance (if there is such a thing) so that most other comparably-priced speakers could also be connected without issues. Is that a realistic goal?
 
here are typical rear panel views of amplifiers

Denon-PMA-1500SE-2-channel-amplifier-Rear.jpg

DV019_Jpg_Regular_620249_amp_rear.jpg


here is a typical rear view of a avr

sunfire-ultimate-receiver-rear-panel-large.jpg


as far as what the differences are... you may want to read this thread:
http://www.avsforum.com/t/1345971/stereo-receiver-vs-amplifier

basically a avr is a preamp+amp+media functions (radio, mp3,video processing, etc) while amps can come as just an amp requring a seperate preamp to control volume or can be integrated preamp+amp so that they do control volume.

a avr is able to switch between any of its sources easily while not all amplifiers have this option.

if you have many input sources a avr is likely best. if you have a single audio source an integrated amp (with volume control) is likely going to get you more for your budget. of course you may want the features of a avr... i dont know. i'm just listing differences.

---

i can only go by prices i can find. i'm not familiar with all of the popular hotspots in eu for speakers so i only use ebay.co.uk, amazon.co.uk and google to see what prices i can find. it looks like you get the wharfdale 10.1s for about 70gbp less than we pay. keep in mind the prices i listed above were usd (if i didnt specify gbp then its in usd)

since you did save a bit this means you would have a few options..

-you could get a center speaker maybe (going to be tight on budget)
-you could step up to 10.2
-step up to a receiver with 10.1
-just keep the extra cash in your wallet
-perhaps have enough budget for a cheap subwoofer

of course it all depends on the deals you can get and if you like the wharfdales to begin with.

there is another thread where a guy got them and likes them though. your choice.

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amplifier and avr output different wattages at different impedences. this is often listed on the spec sheet.

for example a dennon avr-e200 (not i'm not recommending this one just providing it as an example) has various outputs
at 6ohm it outputs 110w per channel
at 8ohm it outputs 75w per channel

it has a maximum power output of 165w per channel.

http://usa.denon.com/us/product/pages/productdetail.aspx?pcatid=avsolutions(denonna)&catalog=denonna_us&catid=avreceivers(denonna)&pid=avre200(denonna)

now i'm not any audio expert by any means. there are a few people more well versed than i am but from my own research...

if an amplifier is not able to handle the load you can get clipping. basically the ends of the wave are cut off. again i'm not expert but i believe this is how you can damage your speakers.

clippingzoomin1.png


this is why the maximum output of the amp or receiver should be larger than the typical requirements of the speakers.

ie if you have 100w speakers at 8ohm a receiver which can output at 100w/8ohm is likely going to work if the maximum output is something like 165.

then speaker sensitivity comes into play. i've heard that high speaker sensitivity means you can use a lower powered amp and it still works. honestly that part has me confused as well.

the diamond 10.1 has a max power handling of 100w/6ohm so something like that receiver would work at 110w/6ohm, 165w max. i believe volume has to do with how much power is used as well. the speakers might not be using 100w all the time.

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100w@6ohm is a fairly common figure for bookshelf speakers.

i would not just go connecting any old speaker up though as speakers often sound better when matched in sets.

ie a full diamond 10 system will likely sound better than something hobbled together from 4 speaker brands. of course you can put together a system and have it sound good but you really must know what you are doing.

if you want to go bigger than 2.0 in the future perhaps an avr is a better solution? lots more inputs, it has video processing, 5.1+ support and in general its more upgradeable than a stereo amp which will always be stereo. of course they do make amps in 5.1 i believe but they are typically more pricey than some of the lower end receivers.
 

bc5

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WOW that is a lot of sockets! And that's a lot of information. Thanks for the excellent post - you've cleared up a lot for me.

I had no idea you could buy amps that don't even have a volume control. I guess I'll need to make sure I get one with a pre-amp built in. It's best signal-wise to max volume on the computer, MP3 player etc and control volume via the amp right? Inputs would mainly be computer, phone and MP3 player I suppose, all connecting to the amp via a 3.5mm jack cable. So would be a case of just unplugging the cable from computer to plug it into the MP3 player etc.

If it helps for the next time you're asked for speaker recommendations, seems our main online retailers are:

audioaffair.co.uk
petertyson.co.uk
avbristol.com
hifigear.co.uk
superfi.co.uk

And Richer Sounds is a national high street chain for audio equipment. Best bet will probably be to just listen to each pair of £250-350 floorstanders in the shop (these aren't huge shops so we're talking maybe half a dozen models).

There's another shop locally that claimed any amp below £1000 isn't worth buying. Probably won't buy there. Amp cost I think can be budgeted separately - hopefully £100-150 should be fine there. Presumably the amp will have negligible impact on audio quality relative to speakers assuming I match impedance and power correctly?

When I said about using different pairs of speakers, I wasn't talking about mixing and matching but was thinking more about future replacements for these speakers not requiring a different amp. Like buying a PSU or case that you can feel comfortable will serve for several sets of components and not just the ones you're buying right now. I don't think surround sound is ever going to be something particularly desirable (since this is really just for music) so 2.0 would be fine channel-wise.

You've cleared up the wattage and impedance stuff nicely there - it's much clearer now. Thanks for your guidance with this - you've been a huge help. Speakers will probably be the Mordaunt Short Mezzo 6, Wharfedale Diamond 10.5 or possibly some Bowers and Wilkins (who are actually headquarted just a few miles away) if there are any affordable options.
 
i typically run my pc audio maxed so i only need to turn one knob for volume. if i have multiple audio progams open (ie playing a game with background music) i adjust the sounds on one to work with the other with the program settings and leave win at 100%. not sure its really required but its easiest.

some amplifiers have a few different input sources and a selector switch. nothing like what a avr has but it would save you unplugging.

actually quite the opposite. a shitty amp can make your speakers sound like crap. you want to get something half decent but you dont need to break the bank. the general guide for receivers is 1/4 to 1/3 of the budget should be for the avr. this should be around the same for avr. go with a respected brand and a model with good reviews which matches the specifications you need.

the speakers are going to be the more expensive part. likely you wouldnt just upgrade them to something else but upgrade your whole system. think about it like buying a mid tower pc case. yes you can re-use it but not many people do (they move on to newer and better things when they finally upgrade). of course you can reuse the amp if you want. its an option.

the nice thing about tower speakers is that you might not even need a subwoofer for them to be boomy. if you can get them for your budget go for it. remember to watch the wattages, impedence and maximum outputs.

sounds like you have a good handle on things. listening to them in person is suggested as you said.
 

bc5

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Sounds like a £100-150 amp for a £300 pair of speakers is just right then!

Bass isn't really a major consideration. These are actually not for me but for my dad, and he's far more interested in his midranges and treble than he is in bass. Infact as far as he's concerned, the less bass there is, the better it sounds. I think maybe because his experience of bass has been muffled / distorted bass. I did explain that bass is good when it's clear and defined but I think ultimately he's gonna be happiest with the least bassy setup. Hence the lack of a sub in the price :)

Just one more question - do I need to make sure I get a DAC in the amp? It sounds less like something quality-oriented and more like something you either have or need to have, like that pre-amp? I saw an 'integrated' amp at £150 that made a big deal of how it included a DAC.
 
I would also check out http://www.diyaudio.com/ Many speaker/electronic designers hang out at that site and you will probably get many repsonces if you post good questions and tell them what you're trying to do.
 

bc5

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Thanks, I'll check that out! I've answered my DAC question (already built-in at the source, just an improved quality version apparently) so only thing I'm not sure about now is if speaker required wattage is per speaker or total? Seems amps / receivers always talk about wattage per channel. So will speakers wanting 100 watts be fine with a 2x 50 watts amp or are they wanting a 100 watts per channel amp?
 

bc5

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Thanks, that is the basis I've been working on. Just seems weird that so many amps are only delivering 20, 40, 60 etc watts per channel, while most of these speakers seem to be wanting 100 watts. Seems to be only one sub £200 amp anywhere delivering 100 watts (the Pioneer SX20). Maybe amps are just expensive here.
 
amplification is one area where i'm not 100% sure of myself. i know for a fact that you can run higher wattage speakers with a lower wattage amp and still have everything work out fine. the part i'm not sure about is where the cutoff line between "good" and "bad" is as well as the cons of doing so. from reading about the issue i believe one problem is that you will not be able to drive the speakers without clipping at high volume levels.... again this is one area i myself am not completely sure on.

the sx20 is 100w @ 8ohm
your speakers are 100w max @6ohm
http://www.superfi.co.uk/p-11906-pioneer-sx20-stereo-receiver.aspx
159gbp so should be in budget (its on sale)

i've done a little digging and 6ohm speakers will work with an 8ohm amp. some sources mention to check that the amplifier doesnt get too hot since it needs to push out more wattage and that THD might be a bit higher but likely you will not notice. quite a few hifi junkies noted that if an amp lists 4ohm and 8ohm support its definitely fine for 6ohm so finding one which lists both.

my educated guess? it should work.
 

ien2222

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Don't worry so much about wattage unless you are planning on very loud listening or have a large room. The efficiency of most speakers at the better part of 89dB. That means if you give the speaker 1 watt of power, it will give you an SPL of 89dB at one meter distance. Unless you are playing extremely loud, or your listening distance is rather large, you probably won't ever supply the speakers more that 30-60 watts of power.

For every extra meter of listening distance or for every increase 3dB requires you to double the power. It ramps up quickly, but starts high to begin with. For a 89dB speaker being played at 95dB at 2 meters would require 8 watts of power, 98dB would take 16watts, 101dB would be 32watts, but 101dB is loud, and that's per speaker.

So you can sort of tell how much power you'll think you need. Find you listening distance and around up to the nearest meter (1.5 would be 2, 2.5 would be 3) and roughly guess the max SPL you'll think you'll play it at, then just start doubling. :) For example, distance is 10 feet, 98dB is about the top limit, and the speakers are 91dB, you'd have 1 x 8 (10 feet listening distance rounded up to 3 meters 2x2x2) x 8 (7dB difference rounded up to 9dB 2x2x2) = 64 watts.

Keep in mind that's per channel. Usually for theater you have all three channels running at the same time so if 98dB is the max, you're speakers will be running at a lower volume.
 

bc5

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Thanks to both of you for the replies!

ssddx - That deal on Superfi was exactly what I was looking at and the THD was my concern - I was a little concerned this is the equivalent of buying a 950 watt PSU for £30. Two specs came up for THD - one at 1% and the other at 0.02%. Another amp I looked at (the Teac AG790) just had one rating of 0.9%, which is presumably the counterpart of the Pioneer's 1% rating.

ien2222 - that's really interesting and useful to know! I had been thinking about wattage vs volume, and the fact that my dad rarely turns the volume up really loud. He'll be listening from a distance of 3-4 metres I guess at medium or even slightly below medium volume (sorry I can't quantify in dB but I'd just be pulling numbers out my arse).

You're probably both right that I'm worrying too much about numbers. The shops selling the speakers (when he settles on a particular pair) can always recommend an amp / receiver. Only problem with that is the first shop told him to spend £1000 on an amp* so I guess that highlights the importance of giving the retailer a strict price limit or a claim that you'll be buying online anyway so it's not a sale they'll get regardless.

* Audio T in Brighton. I wasn't going to name and shame, but £1000 is taking the piss.
 

ien2222

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A few reference points would be:
Normal conversation 40-60dB
Regular TV speakers played at normal levels ~60dB
Vacuum cleaner ~70dB
Busy traffic 80-90dB
Jack hammer at 1m ~100dB
 

ien2222

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Oh darn. I made a mistake in my example for listening distance. 10 feet is 3 meters, but since you start off at 1 meter, it's only 2 x 2 (for the 2nd and 3rd meter) so the grand total would be 32 watts max.

Sorry about that. 64 watts sounded a little high at the time, I should have checked my work.
 

bc5

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Haha not to worry. Well based on the TV and vacuum cleaner I'd guess low 60s. Just a pretty average, comfortable listening volume. Enough to hear everything but not enough to give you a headache after an hour (or less). To clarify, is sensitivity another word for efficiency here?
 

ien2222

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Sensitivity and efficiency are the same thing, I believe that a couple other terms can be used too, but basically it'll give you a dB number and at times indicate at what distance too.

So if vacuum cleaner level is high enough, you'll be using less than a watt per channel to drive the speakers at 3-4 meters if the efficiency is in the 85+dB.

That doesn't mean you want to get a 5 watt per channel receiver though. You do want headroom, as ssddx mentioned above you don't want clipping to happen. The average sound may be ~70dB max but that doesn't mean there are short spikes in power, such as explosions on screen or gunfire for example.

It sounds like in this case, anything above ~40-50wpc should be just fine.