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Temporal_Dissident

Amp Options for B&W 803 D3 Speakers?

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Greetings Audiophiliacs,

My first post, which I will be cross-posting to a few other forums.

 

I have the immense pleasure of designing/building my first true audiophile system. I will spare you the backstory. Point is, it is happening.

 

Aside from the million other questions I am researching related to moving coils, Roon, room correction,...I investing most of my time and money on the foundation: Preamp > Power Amp(s) > Speakers. The decision I am spending most of my time on relates to amplification.

 

Unfortunately, I do not live in a city where I can easily test hifi systems, so I have to rely on a lot of written research and reviews.

 

However, today, while traveling on business in Hong Kong, I stumbled on a B&W showroom. I was able to listen to a pair of 803 D3 speakers, which have been on my consideration list for a while (along with Focal Sopra No 2's). We listened to several CDs. The sound was the best I've ever experienced. A piano/cello piece was so incredibly quiet. Velvet blackness. Dark Side of the Moon's opening transition from "Speak to Me" to "Breathe" blew me away. The clarity and openness between the instruments was remarkable. Frankly, it was a near-spiritual experience.

 

Here is where it got interesting...

 

Afterwards, during lunch at a restaurant in the same building, the waiter saw my B&W catalog and said I should go to the “other” hifi showroom in the building. Why not? I headed back up the elevator to find a KEF showroom. I was able to listen to a pair of Reference 5 speakers, and then the $224k Muon. The source was a digital file through Roon. I know the R5s were powered by a Class D amp, not sure about the Muon.

 

Neither KEF setup approached the 803 D3's. Not even close. I know sound is subjective, but I played that same sequence from Dark Side of the Moon (which I've been listening to for 30 years) and I am telling you there was no comparison.

 

WTF? Why?

 

I think it must have been the amp. When I asked the B&W rep about the massive, black stereo power amp running the 803's, he laughed and said, "oh, it is only about 100 watts,...but it is pure class A." It was a Gryphon. I think it must have been an Antileon EVO Stereo.

 

Anyway, the moral to the story (for me, anyway) is that the advice I’ve often heard, “Amplifiers are far, far more important than speakers” was made very real for me this afternoon. It has scrambled my head. Whereas I had been looking for a high-quality, high-power, solid-state, stereo power amp, I have now fallen back down the rabbit hole and am reconsidering tubes, mono-blocks, and, God forbid, pure Class A amps.

 

What do I do?

 

(Caveat: all due respect to the seekers out there, I really do not want to be an audiophile who is constantly tearing my system apart and trading components up, out, and sideways. I know digital hardware will change, but with my Preamp>power amp(s)>speakers, I want to be extremely intentional about what I buy, and then not mess with it for a decade. The idea of “try something and if you don’t like it, trade it out” does not appeal to me.)

 

I love the B&W 803 D3. While I haven’t bought them yet, let’s pretend that the loudspeaker variable is held constant.

 

I am tied in a pretzel over the amp question. I am prepared to invest in a high-end analog pre-amp, mono-blocks, separate DAC, power conditioning, etc.. I’ve looked at PS Audio, McIntosh (tube and solid-state), Anthem, etc. I tried to look at Classe, but it appears their status as a company is too uncertain.

 

I am open to any, all advice or thoughts. Does my listening room experience today trigger a thought with anyone? What was it about that Gryphon Class A > B&W 803 sound? And how do I get it without spending $32k on an amp?

 

Thanks in advance

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The best would be to go back to the HK dealer and ask him to put a system together within your budget, then listen to it. He may keep the 803's in or may not depending on budget. Buying blind at this price point is not advisable. Good luck! 

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The KEF's and the B&W should sound nothing alike. Their on- and off-axis frequency responses are so dissimilar that it is difficult to compare them. The KEF Ref 5 is a pretty neutral speaker, the B&W isn't. Comes down to personal taste/preference. There is plenty of info available if you search around.


Sonore ultraRendu (MPD), Sonore ultraDigital, Ayre QX-5 Twenty, Ayre KX-5 Twenty, Ayre VX-5 Twenty, Revel Ultima Studio2, RealTraps acoustic treatments

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Linn‘s Exact digital crossover and room correction is available for 803s. The effect is rather remarkable but you’d need a Linn streamer,  an Exaktbox and 8 channels of amplification for it. There are several options offered by Linn to facilitate that.

 

I have heard one of these systems at a demo and it was very good.

 

Give it a try if you find a demo. Also have a look at the Linn site for more info.

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On 8/9/2019 at 6:43 AM, Axiom05 said:

The KEF's and the B&W should sound nothing alike. Their on- and off-axis frequency responses are so dissimilar that it is difficult to compare them. The KEF Ref 5 is a pretty neutral speaker, the B&W isn't. Comes down to personal taste/preference. There is plenty of info available if you search around.

Yes, but.....he said Muons!  The B&W 803 sound better than the KEF bespoke custom flagship speakers?  Something doesn’t compute.  I have the Blades and when I win the lottery, Muons are the first order of business.  

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The problem is you don't have a controlled experiment.  The differences could be due to the room, the speakers (as others have noted, B&W has a non-neutral house sound, which includes the infamous "BBC Dip" hard-wired into the crossovers), or any number of things.  Amps should be completely neutral, but some induce euphonic colorization.  The source (DAC, or CD player, or whatever) could sound different, and there are a large number of people who claim the interconnect cables can make a difference.  But the room and speakers are the most likely candidates.

 

If you could get Dealer A to stick a different amp on the speakers, you might be able to assess whether the difference is due to the amp.  (I am willing to bet it is not.)


--

Do facts matter?

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On 8/9/2019 at 1:00 AM, Temporal_Dissident said:

What was it about that Gryphon Class A > B&W 803 sound? And how do I get it without spending $32k on an amp?

 

How different are the KEF, B&W and your usual listening space where you listen to the DSOTM?

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On 8/17/2019 at 11:48 PM, wgscott said:

The problem is you don't have a controlled experiment...

 

True, true. I am in an education phase. Doing a lot of asking, listening, and learning. Admittedly, my post was a little naive, but this was partially by design to fish for responses I could learn from. Most responses on other forums have either been like yours (eg - no way to know) or have suggested a specific amp, which is a little farcical. 

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1 hour ago, Temporal_Dissident said:

Sort of like comparing Apples and Elephants. 

 

Room acoustics and your familiarization with the reverb can play a bigger role in your preference.  A bigger room means a longer reverb so it can sort of tame the impact of DSOTM "Time" like tracks. 

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Find the impedance curve for the B&W 803 D3 - that will tell you how sensitive it is to the choice of an amp.

 

A good clear amp need not be ultra-expensive.  I prefer to use a good solid-state amp with a nice euphonic tubed pre-amp.  This greatly reduces the power draw, wasting of energy and cost, while giving plenty of "tubey goodness" in the sound.

 

For $400 a NuForce amp is a good choice.  later, if you think there is something significantly better you can buy that and move the NuForce to your bedroom system.

 

For pre-amps I use a Audio Research line stage (replaced a Sonic Frontiers).  I buy half priced used ones after a dealer refurbs them, dials them in, and puts a warranty on them.  I could pay more, I just enjoy being an audio cheapskate.  And... they are easy to sell w/out much or any loss if you want to "upgrade" later.

 

Avoid buying depreciating assets...

 

Instead, put $$ into the room acoustics and in the highest SQ releases of music you really like.

 

Or power chords... whatevah


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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11 minutes ago, Ralf11 said:

Find the impedance curve for the B&W 803 D3 - that will tell you how sensitive it is to the choice of an amp.

 

A good clear amp need not be ultra-expensive.  I prefer to use a good solid-state amp with a nice euphonic tubed pre-amp.  This greatly reduces the power draw, wasting of energy and cost, while giving plenty of "tubey goodness" in the sound.

 

For $400 a NuForce amp is a good choice.  later, if you think there is something significantly better you can buy that and move the NuForce to your bedroom system.

 

For pre-amps I use a Audio Research line stage (replaced a Sonic Frontiers).  I buy half priced used ones after a dealer refurbs them, dials them in, and puts a warranty on them.  I could pay more, I just enjoy being an audio cheapskate.  And... they are easy to sell w/out much or any loss if you want to "upgrade" later.

 

Avoid buying depreciating assets...

 

Instead, put $$ into the room acoustics and in the highest SQ releases of music you really like.

 

Or power chords... whatevah

 

I totally agree. If you want to go Audio Research, they are still selling NOS Digital amps they built (DS250, etc). They were great amps also.


Current:  JRiver 24 on Win 10 PC (AMD Ryzen 5 2600 with 32 GB RAM) or Daphile on an I5-2500K with 16 GB RAM

DAC - TEAC UD-501 DAC 

Pre-amp - Audio Research SP-16

Amplification - Kenwood L-07M Monoblocks

Speakers: Wharfedale Linton Heritage

Cables: MIT speaker cables and DiMarzio Interconnects

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The reason why the KEF's may have underwhelmed compared to the B&W's is perhaps the B&W's were optimally set up in that room, whereas the KEF's setup may have been sub-optimal.

 

Matching the speaker to the size and dimensions of your listening room, the placement of your particular speakers in relation to the room and your listening position in that room, together with acoustical treatments are far more critical than the amp or anything else.

 

Judging sound by listening to a system in another venue is of some value, but not much.  If there is any way the dealer will give you a home trial and you are able to get the speakers set up appropriately in your room, then and only then can you know for sure whether any speaker/amp combo will ultimately please you.  

 

Also, if you are unable to place the speakers in the optimal location for your room, you are throwing away a significant portion of the speaker's performance capability (i.e. putting the speakers right up against the wall or crammed in the corners, unless the speaker is designed for such placement; see e.g. Wilson Duette and Audio Note).  

 

 


Home: UltraRendu | Berkeley Alpha USB | Schiit Yggdrasil Analog 2 | Jeff Rowland Coherence II Series 2 | Blue Circle Audio BC-202 | Raidho XT-1 | 2 x Revel Performa3 B112 subwoofers  

 

Desktop: Iso Regen | Schiit Eitr | Chord Qutest  | Aesthetix Calypso pre | Blue Circle Audio BC-28 amp | Scansonic MK-5 monitors | Elac S10 sub

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