Opinions - Component Upgrading - Which First?

Two houses ago we had a living room comparable to yours. Passive LS50s with a good integrated amp were plenty for that room. We started with a Naim UnitiQute, later moved to a Bel Canto c7r. Passive LS50s are rather inefficient, but if you give them enough power, they can be very capable with the right room placement. That’s a problem in your current layout. There’s no way that the speakers where they are can project a convincing sound field to the main sitting area, and they are probably too close to the back walls and drapes anyway. As for subs, it takes a lot of care to set them up right.

It is possible to get a very good room-filling, 3D experience with the right gear and room correction even with weird speaker placements, but in my experience (current house) is in a very different cost bracket.

In your situation, I’d investigate wireless powered speakers that can stand both sides of the French doors. Something from Naim, maybe.

@Frank_Farrell - Yes its just for music. I bought the receiver originally for home entertainment but I’ve used it to dip my toe into having a dedicated music set up and now I have the bug. I think to yours and @xxx’s point, I should ditch the receiver/speakers/sub and put it downstairs with my TV for movies.

@AndyR - I listen to a wide range of music - classical, neo-classical to jazz, blues, rock, folk, soul.

@Rockhound - I could probably be convinced to spend 2500-3000k CAD.

@garye / @Fernando_Pereira - I have thought about going with wireless powered speakers. There’s lots of hype around the LS50w. I’ve read that they are better than the passive version. Possibly because they have amps that are fit for purpose and built in DSP. I’ve also read that they don’t have much for bass though.

I like the suggestion of one on either side of the french doors, I think the LS50w need a cable linked between them though. I will research other options that you’ve both mentioned.

Thanks for everyone’s input, I’ll take a bit of everyone’s advice. I’ve disconnected my sub this evening. The sound is definitely cleaner and tighter and I’ll try to tweak it more, but I think the lack of lows will be problem for me and the room isn’t as full as with the sub. Moving my ottoman out of the way and sitting closer to the speakers helped. I’ll continue tweaking my current system while I start researching more seriously for a replacement. I’m liking the idea of a system like the LS50w. If anyone has experience with these or other similar speakers I’d be interested to hear.


Have you ever tried the headphone experience? If you enjoy private listening, headphones are a great solution and you can get a pretty nice setup at a reasonable cost.

No I havent. But that’s an interesting idea as well. Thank-you!

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Then I’d get a pair of pre-loved Dynaudio Special 40s now and save for a decent integrated stereo amp in the same price bracket - approx 4-5k CAD - most speakers need decent power. At which point you can have movies downstairs and music listening where you currently have it.

Irrespective of where you finally go, getting hold of a pair of LS50W’s to try would likely be a good benchmark. In a moderate sized room they should go plenty low enough for the music you listen to; your current system will sound bass light until you get used to it without the sub!

The LS50W’s are probably optimum fed over the network, and network cables are easier to hide! The interconnect between speakers is also network, and would be out of the way and barely visible led round the frame of your french windows…

Digressing - beware speakers that ‘need a lot of power’. That is often a paraphrase for ‘don’t sound right unless I crank it right up’. Balance a system so that it sounds right at the levels you want to listen at. If that’s also a level your family and neighbours are happy with - even better.

Good idea to see if I could test out a pair of LS50W’s. I’ll have to see if there’s a local shop that would do that.

I was reading last night that the interconnection between the LS50W’s is just a network cable and that any Cat 5e/6/7 would be fine. Those are cheap to acquire and to your point, easy to run and tuck away.

Your digression is valid because most of my listening is at night after the kids have been put to bed; book in hand, doors closed and volume low to moderate. This is the scenario in which I want the speakers to perform best and in which I’m listening with a critical ear to an album like one of my current favourites, The Chopin Project, Orphée or Kiwanuka. During the day with kids running around, volumes up and multi-room playing from my listening space, TV room and patio, I’m less fussed.

I have an old Marantz record player and a handed down record collection, which I like for nostalgia and teaching my kids about albums, music, etc… but honestly most of the vinyl is well used and I do 98% of my music listening from digital sources, which right now is all Tidal via Roon.

So based on my space, listening case and music source, the LS50W’s are possibly better suited than a power hungry speaker like the Dynaudio Special 40s and a high powered integrated amp.

You might hate them - but at least you’ll know! In the end you just need to find the right compromise.

And don’t forget you need a mains socket for each… :wink:

This conversation is a little KEF biased… Just saying.

Hi Corey

My thoughts, around your stimulating question, is to ask about the quality of your music source

No amount of expensive equipment will create a good sound from a poor source

Now I am not suggesting that Tidal is a poor source but they do have different options (and costs) depending on the quality of the music you are streaming

You do not say what quality you are streaming from them - but highest quality music source is a key starting point

Source first! Qobuz 24 bit material sounds much better than Tidal to me.

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I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I own a pair of the Rti-A3 speakers and really like them…but they are limited. The Rti series was intended for a home theater environment and might reflect some of the unmusicality that Slim mentions. But I do feel they are quality speakers. I own a pair of the LS50s as well. They image well, but they have a thinner voice compared to the Polks, but the polls just don’t have the air…it is hard to beat that KEF air.

I wish I could recommend going to stereo shops and demoing as many speakers as you can, but this year is not good for that.

Play around with your sub. Swap it’s cord to see if it takes care of the hum. Reposition your Polks like crazy. Just when you think you have it all figured out, wake up and try again. Speakers are so key—but so are their placement.

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Yes, I suppose it has been biased in that direction. I guess because they are thought to present good value in providing a whole system in a package that brings with it a sound that is held in high regard. For $2k CAD the LS50w gives me a new streamer, DAC, amp and speakers. I’m not sure what a comparable system comprised of separates would be.

The music source is as you said from Tidal, their service that provides CD quality and MQA streaming. I have Roon setup to decode the MQA stream (no hardware rendering of the MQA stream in my system) and perform upsampling to 24/192. I also have some 24/96 and 24/192 flac albums but mainly stream from Tidal. I don’t think I’m starting with a subpar music source.

There’s the problem. Each of those parts of the whole is compromised. It’s the eternal problem with all in one solutions.

Agreed. I don’t think the RTi A1s are a bad speaker but they do leave me desiring more. More range (I think the A3s actually go down lower in their range), more clarity/definition and more, as mentioned, musicality. The RTI A1s being used for movies in my basement is probably where they will end up.

And I agree that positioning is important, but at some point there must be a limit to what positioning can do. I’m sure I’m not at that absolute limitation and I probably will never reach it. And after playing with speaker position, sitting position, ditching the sub, Audyssey room correction on/off, different music sources, I think I’m just up against the limitation of the equipment. But maybe I haven’t played with speaker position quite enough…

However, I think the original question of which component to upgrade first has been answered. Speakers first. But this leads to the next dilemma. If you’re going to buy fancy new speakers and want to get the most of them, what are you doing with a receiver driving them! So now speakers and an amp are needed. Besides, the receiver is better suited downstairs with the movies and the RTI A1s. And if you’re in the market for a new Hi-Fi system, why not consider powered wireless speakers that possibly offer more flexibility in positioning. That’s what lead to the discussion around the KEF LS50w.

I suppose you could consider the system as an overall compromise. But any system is compromised unless you have unlimited funds. What is intriguing to me is that a system like the LS50w can represent efficiency and value because the engineers are able to tailor the system. Why drive with a 2x watt amp when 1x watt amp is exactly what the speaker needs. And since the DAC, amp and speaker are all specified, they can perform advanced DSP to correct for any inherent sound quality issues that exist from the speaker. They took the LS50 speakers that people love and tailor-made a system to drive them. But what does concern me about an all-in-one system is that if one component fails, the whole system fails.

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Changing Tidal tier will make no difference to the issues he described. Don’t sidetrack.

If your a low volume late night listener like myself, the Kef’s are great.

That’s one of the reasons I purchased them for, because of the amount of detail at low volume.

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I have never listened to the KEFs so I cannot comment on what they offer. The problem is just that there are so many options (active/passive, wired/ wireless, many different manufacturers etc)
that it is difficult to make an informed decision just from information from reviews and forums. Just because the KEFs are popular does not mean that you will be happy with them. So I would also always recommend to at least audition different speakers in a shop, ideally at home. Another approach for narrowing down the options would be to buy local, and focus on in your case Canadian? manufacturers.

I really like my passive KEFs, and I think pairing them with their Kube 8 sub would be great in a small-ish room. They are in my CD library which is probably too small for them (6’x10’x7’) but they sound okay and are great for off-axis listening whilst I putter in the room.

I like the idea and sound review of the KEF LS50w, but they kinda sound glitchy in a way that hasn’t been addressed in a couple generations of them. For their price, this makes me apprehensive of picking up a pair.

Good to know, thank you.

Agreed, that is a problem. I like your suggestion of narrowing it down and focusing on Canadian manufacturers, I’ll look into what Canadian made/designed products are available.

There have been a couple small developments while messing about with my gear the last couple days.

  1. I noticed that when playing via AirPlay direct to the receiver I was getting more bass than when playing through HDMI by means of Roon Bridge on the Beaglebone Black. The level of detail dropped as one would expect but the lows improved and I perceived an overall improvement in tonality. Interesting. Note that this was still with the sub disconnected. Is it the transport to the receiver that is impacting this tonality and range or is it how the receiver processes these different inputs that is impacting it? So, I did another test.

  2. I loaded a few flac albums (CD and hi res quality) on to a USB thumb drive and plugged it in to the front of the receiver. Playing the same tracks as with the AirPlay test, the same improved tonality existed but now the detail returned as expected. Additionally, my initial perception is that the clarity is better playing these flac tracks through the USB drive than playing them through Roon > Beaglebone > HDMI. More testing is needed to confirm clarity but I’m more confident in the tonality improvement and certain of the low-end range improvement.

The additional question this raises for me is what is leading to this difference. Is it the source I’m using to feed the HDMI input? Or is it the design of the receiver that processes HDMI sources differently than USB and AirPlay sources. The HDMI inputs on the receiver are intended for movie sound streams and the USB/AirPlay sources are intended for music sound streams. Interesting. I’m going to test an alternate HDMI source to confirm.

What about bypassing the receiver’s digital processing? The only analog source I have to test is my record player. I can try playing the same album on vinyl and that might teach me something as well. But there are inherent differences in the vinyl quality vs the flac quality to be aware of. Maybe a better analog source to compare, using the same flac files, would be an external DAC, which I don’t own … yet.

But there’s one more thing:

  1. I connected my sub again and fiddled with a few things on that front. I lowered the cutoff setting in the receiver from 80hz to 60hz, I lowered the sub level and I moved the sub even further away from the walls in the corner that I have it in behind me. I perceived an improvement in clarity and tightness of the bass and it seemed to mesh better with the speakers. I think lowering the cutoff got rid of overlap with the speakers that might have been negatively impacting sound quality. Maybe this is what was causing the discomforting resonating on some mid to low range sounds like cellos. Still not sure if the position behind me is ideal but it does seem to fill the room that way.

So with the sub configured in this manner and the speaker positions tweaked slightly again, I loaded one of my favourite albums on to the USB drive, Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate (16bit/44khz), and plugged it into the front of the receiver. I sat in my listening position moving the chair slight forward and side to side trying to find the best spot, I turned the volume up and then closed my eyes. The 10 minutes of Cold Little Heart is probably the best listening experience I’ve had with my system. The sound stage was great, the music seemed to swirl around me. The tonality was spot on and the sub seemed to mesh well with the speakers to produce a song carrying bass presence. Clarity at the beginning of track with the violins and piano was very good but later during the more complex sections of the track it seemed that the system had a hard time maintaining separation between the distortion of the electrical guitar and the clarity of the piano. Regardless, it put a smile on my face. It gave me hope that I may be able to squeeze enough out of the system to make it work for me. I think part of the performance improvement and enjoyment of that track was due to the higher than typical volumes I was playing it at.

So, more testing is required of music sources and inputs to the receiver and I still need to source out a power conditioning fix but I am more optimistic today. Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in up to this point.