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Audioengine thought experiment


richardgrant
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Hi y'all -- my first post. Before I bog down in explanations, here are some possibilities I've been weighing in my head.

1. Audioengine HD6: US$749

2. Snapdragon Red DAC > Audioengine A5+ bamboo: $669

3. NAD D 3020 > Audioengine P4 bamboo: $734

The source is an Apple computer of some sort with a 70K+ track iTunes library, lovingly curated, mostly decent compressed files (256kbps AAC or LAME VBR MP3) but ranging from 96kbps mono vinyl rips to lossless ALAC.

I know there are roughly 1 gazillion other possibilities, so let me explain briefly why I am drawn (on emotional and practical grounds) to Audioengine.

• I gifted both my sons with A2 systems a few years ago; everyone is happy with the experience.

• For 26 years -- since 1990 -- my main audio system has been a Cambridge SoundWorks Model Eleven (which, as many of you will know, was designed by Henry Kloss as the spiritual successor to the KLH Model 11, ca. 1967). It continues to sound excellent but is also showing signs of aging-out. Audioengine reminds me a lot of Kloss's work, in terms of design sensibility, audio engineering and business model.

• The listening situation is a bit mad. I spend a lot of time within ~6 feet of the computer desk, but the system also serves an open living area of 20x20x9 feet (all pine surfaces, minimal furnishings, lovely acoustics).

Those are the high points (I think)! I should add that I cannot spend much more than this -- maybe up to $1000 max. I am a writer with unreliable income, and the funds for this project, by wonderful real-life happenstance, come from the unexpected sale of *audiobook* rights to my forthcoming book. But I live in Maine and winter is coming.

Thanks for any of your thoughts!

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If you're willing to consider a different approach, Music Direct has some pretty good stuff on sale right now. Look at these 3 pieces.

 

Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 ($300)

NAD C 316BEE ($380) or Cambridge Audion Topaz AM10 ($350)

Wharfdale Diamond 10.1 ($250)

 

Something like this should sound significantly better than the 3 options you list above. Not only that, you have a much better upgrade path. Getting powered speakers limits your options.

 

The only downside to my system is that most people on this website will want you to get powered speakers. Probably 10 to 1. So be prepared for some resistance.

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I use an NAD D 3020 in a lightly furnished room of about that size with an NHT 2.1 system (86 dB sensitivity). Works well so long as you don't push it; the amp is only 30 WPC after all. Performance at my 12' distant listening chair sounds very good in 65-70 dB range. Much above 75 dB and it gets a bit "hard" sounding. Has an internal 24/96 DAC and sub output. Limited tone control; just a 6 dB bass boost. No phono section if that matters. Right now, $349 refurbished and free shipping at Spearit Sound in Northampton.

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Thanks for these suggestions! My attraction to the 3020 was largely driven by its multiple roles as DAC + amplifier + network-friendly device with flexible input -- and also by its description in the Stereophile recommended components list as "possibly the greatest value in high-end audio" or words to that effect. Bummer that it's probably underpowered for my use case.

 

The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s seem very appealing. This model has recently been discontinued, I think? So this is kind of a last chance deal. It's funny you should mention them, actually, because they've been near the top of my alternate list, along with ELAC Debut B6s.

 

I'm not committed to an all-in-one, DAC+amp+speakers-in-one-box solution. But it does have its attractions, including the lovely 3-year warranty from Audioengine and the company's reputation for reliability. It's kind of alarming to browse some of the audio forums and note the frequency of threads about broken gear -- and NAD seems to be mentioned with disproportionate frequency, though I haven't actually done a survey or anything. Living in rural Maine and being often budget-strapped have left me kind of jittery.

 

So now I've got more to think about! Thanks, guys ;)

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I think DACs are easy so pick whatever strikes your fancy. I might suggest some JBL LSR305's speakers. I don't know if they are better than AudioEngine as both have good reps. I just haven't heard the AE's. I would suggest, whether with AE's or otherwise, plan on a sub. The 305s being very, very good and being $260/pair leaves money for a sub to go with them.

 

I know the LSR305's would do pretty well in a room that size and moving up to the LSR308's would help in that regard. I have added the LSR310 sub to 305s in a larger room than yours and relieving them of the bottom end made the sound much more like some large expensive floor standing speakers in a large space. So whichever computer speakers you go with, I would suggest planning on adding a sub. In this situation it pays big dividends. Also, I don't know that the LSR310 sub is especially great vs other similarly priced subs. A good sub for small monitor speakers in a big room will expand the satisfaction you get by a large margin.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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"The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s seem very appealing. This model has recently been discontinued, I think? So this is kind of a last chance deal."

 

Its not something I would worry about. Its a proven design that's worked well for the company. Whatever they replace them with should be just refinements to the current design. For the price its almost impossible to screw up.

 

I haven't had too many issues with NAD breaking. It does happen occasionally, but you'll never have issue as long as the product is defective, and not damaged from something you did. Most good companies really don't want customers to have problems. If there's an issue, they'll fix it right away, and get it right back to you. I can't guarantee this, but I've seen them cover problems under warranty after it expired.

 

Also, be sure to use a good dealer. Best Buy's customer service is great if you're fluent in Indian. You'll probably get much better service from a place like Music Direct.

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Re the sub: I'm sure you're right about this. The 1990 Cambridge SoundWorks system I've been living with has two small 2-way satellites and a subwoofer, as well as a little amp that is like a Mini Me clone of some late 70s Advent gear, I can't remember the model. Anyway, one does get used to having this subwoofer around, even if it is kind of indistinct and boomy.

 

This may end up being a deferred upgrade, though -- it depends on how tightly I budget the rest of the system and, who knows, the alignment of stars in the literary heavens. This audiobook income just dropped out of the sky, so maybe the next cloud has a subwoofer in it.

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17629v2, I'm doing some quickie research on the Cambridge gear you mentioned, and already I got a lol out of this line in an Absolute Sound review:

 

"With Topaz, clearly Cambridge is targeting the prime sub-$700 territory—NAD country. In fact you might say Cambridge is making a BEE-line in that direction."

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Richard,

 

I've had Audioengine A5s in my home office for about 9 years. They still work and I still enjoy listening to them. I now use an Audioquest Dragonfly DAC with them.

 

I agree with the Henry Kloss analogy. I'd AR-4xs, KLH 5s and later a Cambridge Soundworks 2.1 system in my home office. There may be better gear but while I'm listening to the A5s, I'm just enjoying the music and not wishing for anything else. Replacing my A5s with $ 1500/pair active speakers has been on my list for years but I never get motivated enough to do it.

 

The HD6 might be a better choice for your 20 by 20 by 9 room. The A5s do have limits on volume and lose sound quality if you get close to those limits. The HD6s have an optical input to feed the internal DAC; do you have a optical digital output on your computer?

 

Audioengine provides some practical features that matter to me: low power sleep mode, volume control on the front of the left speaker that controls both speakers and a remote control for volume from your listening chair. It is awkward to duplicate those features with some other choices.

 

I think that the P4s have a smaller mid-bass driver compared to the A5+ and HD6. Not an obvious choice for a sizable room.

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Thanks for these wise observations, Old Listener. I only go back as far as the Advent Loudspeaker, but I think I may have had the same 2.1 Cambridge SoundWorks system you did -- my ex got that in our amicable parting of ways, and I got the portable Model Eleven.

 

I do have optical output on the iMac that's currently hosting my music library. (These things are subject to reassignment as my grown kids and I have evolved a sort of family-sharing economy for consumer electronics.)

 

I'm glad about to hear your experience with Audioengine. We've been happy and impressed with the little A2 speakers, which is one factor in my thinking -- and another is the remote you've mentioned that comes with the HD6. This is by all accounts a very nice little piece of gear: a svelte but solid chunk of polished aluminum with minimal controls -- something Johnny Ive might look kindly upon. I've just been reading more about Cambridge Audio and NAD amplifiers, which I am quite certain are really excellent in terms of audio quality. And they've got these remotes, which look rather like all the other little black plastic cases packed with tiny buttons that seem to propagate like tribbles if you don't watch out. Now this is a small thing: a remote. But these sophisticated audio products are made of a *lot* of small things; lots of fine-grained thinking and prioritizing and compromising go into them; I'm personally inclined to feel that this level of attention to an easily overlooked accessory conveys some insight into the depth of thinking and commitment that went into more crucial, and less visible, aspects of the design and manufacturing.

 

None of which is to suggest that any of these products is shoddy, by any means. And I have to say I'm intrigued by other speakers, especially the Wharfedales. We once actually had a decent audio store in the nearby town of Camden -- but alas, there's no longer much chance to actually hear these speakers in person without actually ordering them.

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Just to complicate things:

Audioengine HDP6 passive bookshelf speakers Review - Dagogo | A Unique Audiophile Experience

 

The new passive version of the HD6

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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Richard, good day. I too am new to this forum, but not to music.

I listen to the Audioengine A5+ bamboo in my living room. I play a combo of CD Rip and HiRes downloads thru a PonoPlayer. I find the speakers to be true, relatively neutral. I would recommend Audioengine to a friend. They are responsive, polite and produce a fine product, IMHO.

 

Mark

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I use an NAD D 3020 in a lightly furnished room of about that size with an NHT 2.1 system (86 dB sensitivity). Works well so long as you don't push it; the amp is only 30 WPC after all. Performance at my 12' distant listening chair sounds very good in 65-70 dB range. Much above 75 dB and it gets a bit "hard" sounding. Has an internal 24/96 DAC and sub output. Limited tone control; just a 6 dB bass boost. No phono section if that matters. Right now, $349 refurbished and free shipping at Spearit Sound in Northampton.

 

I bought one of these 3020's from Spearit several months ago for a friend who had a serious budget problem, but wanted some good sound. I paired it with Music Hall Marimbas. They made their own speaker stands. The 3020 had two problems. It couldn't drive the Marimbas to the sound level they wanted, and in trying to do so, it would overheat. It also came with a remote that didn't work. Spearit swapped out the remote, which fixed that problem, but said that the 3020 just gets warm and to make sure we had enough vent space around it.

 

I got the NAD because of the price for the refurbished unit, and that I've had very good luck with the brand. I still have a NAD 356BEE I use in my hangar. I believe it's an excellent company making solid product. However, I would not buy or recommend the 3020. YMMV, of course.

 

JJ

 

Edit: I must say that their room was too big and too filled with sound absorbing couches for this little setup, which yours may not be. Do get a sub, if you can.

JJinPDX

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Thanks, mkevenson, that is very heartening. I've been impressed by the little A2s for much the same reasons. Though it's funny, my two sons who actually own the speakers don't seem to have any particular feelings about them one way or the other. They listen to music mostly through stock Apple earbuds or modest (at best) car radio speakers. But they do like music so I suppose eventually they'll start thinking about where it's coming from.

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Wow, JJ, thanks for this cautionary story. This is exactly the sort of thing I have some anxiety about.

 

A couple of people have mentioned Spearit. Good source? Specialize in refurb equipment? They're not all that far from here, in the grand scheme of things.

 

I had a similar experience with a refurb NAD integrated. I liked it a lot until it burnt up the power supply, took it to an authorized dealer for repair and it happened again... at that point I gave up on it and moved on.

 

I have a pair of the A2 speakers that I use as computer speakers. They just needed a touch of EQ and they make very nice sound for their size. I'd find someone w/ a generous return/demo policy and give the HD6s a spin. Simple and lots of bang for the buck w/ the option to add a sub at a later date if so desired.

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Wow, JJ, thanks for this cautionary story. This is exactly the sort of thing I have some anxiety about.

 

A couple of people have mentioned Spearit. Good source? Specialize in refurb equipment? They're not all that far from here, in the grand scheme of things.

 

I agree that the NAD 356BEE would be a much better choice than the 3020. One feature to not overlook is the amp and preamp sections on the 356 are connected externally with jumpers. This means you can use it as an amp or preamp only, and not have the signal run through the portion of the amp you are not using. If you plan on upgrading at some point, that's a pretty nice feature to have.

 

If you would consider going used, a Rotel 1060 or 1062 would be an excellent choice. Also, a Creek 5350SE if you come across a good used one. The Creek will cost a bit more, but its in a completely different league than any of the other amps were talking about here.

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Hello richard,

 

I've had several Cambridge Soundworks products starting in the late 90s, and really liked them as a great value. I also had Audioengine A5s for a very enjoyable year before getting the upgrade itch.

 

Sometimes the Audioengine store stocks refurbished HD 6 for $599.00. Hard to beat that, imo. If I were looking for an affordable, simple, decent sounding solution, I'd probably get these. Their refurbs carry the same warranty as new. My A5s were refurbs and looked like new. Unfortunately, there are nor refurb HD6s in stock presently. Good luck.

1070957250_Imprimatur.NihilObstatSepia3Crop(2).jpg.2162a44365e84a5df7d456bf8026ed67.jpg

 

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Wow, it's weird who shows up on Computer Audiophile. I'm a fan, Richard.

 

Put me down as seconding @esldude's recommendation for a pair of JBL LSR305's (or 308's) paired with a subwoofer.

 

I have a pair of 305's in the office (see below), and when I'm the only one here, I often turn up the volume. No problem with the 305's filling the suite, but a subwoofer would certainly help. (I bought a pair of AudioEngine speakers for my daughter a few years ago, and they're pretty nice, but I think the JBL's are better, if not as attractive.)

 

--David

Listening Room: Mac mini (Roon Core) > iMac (HQP) > exaSound PlayPoint (as NAA) > exaSound e32 > W4S STP-SE > Benchmark AHB2 > Wilson Sophia Series 2 (Details)

Office: Mac Pro >  AudioQuest DragonFly Red > JBL LSR305

Mobile: iPhone 6S > AudioQuest DragonFly Black > JH Audio JH5

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Wow, it's weird who shows up on Computer Audiophile. I'm a fan, Richard.

 

Put me down as seconding @esldude's recommendation for a pair of JBL LSR305's (or 308's) paired with a subwoofer.

 

I have a pair of 305's in the office (see below), and when I'm the only one here, I often turn up the volume. No problem with the 305's filling the suite, but a subwoofer would certainly help. (I bought a pair of AudioEngine speakers for my daughter a few years ago, and they're pretty nice, but I think the JBL's are better, if not as attractive.)

 

--David

 

...and with an iFi nano iDSD, that's really affordable.

1070957250_Imprimatur.NihilObstatSepia3Crop(2).jpg.2162a44365e84a5df7d456bf8026ed67.jpg

 

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Wow, JJ, thanks for this cautionary story. This is exactly the sort of thing I have some anxiety about.

 

A couple of people have mentioned Spearit. Good source? Specialize in refurb equipment? They're not all that far from here, in the grand scheme of things.

 

I like Spearit. Good people. I just don't think the NAD 3020 is for much other than maybe a dorm room. If you have a chance to visit Spearit, do. I used to live in the Boston area, so would visit them every so often. When in the hunt for equipment, they continue to be one of my "go to" shops to see what they are offering, even though I now live in the NW. The wonders of internet shopping...

 

JJ

JJinPDX

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Hey guys. Gavin Fish from Audioengine here. I thought I'd hop in and offer my two cents.

 

I think for your 20X20X9 room, I agree with Old Listener. HD6 is a better choice. Depending on placement away from the wall, a subwoofer may or may not be needed. In my 16X18X8 office, my HD6's are sitting on stands next to my desk, which is in the middle of the room. I've added an S8 subwoofer under my desk that is attenuated to only about 15% of full power. It sounds great. In my bedroom at home, I have HD6's on stands within 8 inches of the wall. No subwoofer needed in that setup because the wall supports the rear firing slotted port.

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Hey guys. Gavin Fish from Audioengine here. I thought I'd hop in and offer my two cents.

 

I think for your 20X20X9 room, I agree with Old Listener. HD6 is a better choice. Depending on placement away from the wall, a subwoofer may or may not be needed. In my 16X18X8 office, my HD6's are sitting on stands next to my desk, which is in the middle of the room. I've added an S8 subwoofer under my desk that is attenuated to only about 15% of full power. It sounds great. In my bedroom at home, I have HD6's on stands within 8 inches of the wall. No subwoofer needed in that setup because the wall supports the rear firing slotted port.

 

Gavin, I'd like your opinion on using HD6s in a 20 by 15 by 9 room as part of my main system. The speakers would be about 18" to 2 feet from the wall behind them and about 8-10 feet from the listeners. This current speaker location minimizes room modes. I am willing to accept some sacrifice in sound quality with respect to my much more expensive and complex current system because I want a simpler more convenient system. The quality of lows below 50 Hz don't matter much to me, high average sound level doesn't matter and I am a soundstage and imaging freak.

 

So do you think that the HD6s are viable as main speakers in such a room?

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Gavin, I'd like your opinion on using HD6s in a 20 by 15 by 9 room as part of my main system. The speakers would be about 18" to 2 feet from the wall behind them and about 8-10 feet from the listeners. This current speaker location minimizes room modes. I am willing to accept some sacrifice in sound quality with respect to my much more expensive and complex current system because I want a simpler more convenient system. The quality of lows below 50 Hz don't matter much to me, high average sound level doesn't matter and I am a soundstage and imaging freak.

 

So do you think that the HD6s are viable as main speakers in such a room?

 

As long as you're not planning on playing a crazy high dB's all the time, yes, I think so. And I think as long as your wall isn't covered in anything soft (like curtains, for example), you won't want a subwoofer.

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