Equipment matching, your route to the Holy Grail!
The art in Hi-fi is equipment matching, carefully selecting components in order to get the most from you system. In reality the ability to do this can be difficult, testing multiple items at home may not be possible or costly also sometimes demoing in store cannot gain the required results. Therefore we at AA have decided to compile a blog utilising the knowledge and experience we have gained through years, from cables to speaker/amplifier matching we will aim to cover the important aspects here.
Quite often a certain item in your system maybe letting down the side, this is to not say it is a bad quality or defective piece of kit, it could just be not a great match (low sensitivity loudspeakers and 300B amplifiers spring to mind!) Every component in the chain will affect the sound in some way and knowing how each unit sounds can be difficult as it is relative to whatever is connected – a big circle in some ways, no unit will be completely neutral i.e not affecting the sound in some way, whether this be dynamics, tonal balance or presentation. This said each component has its own signature so matching these with similar sound signatures can be seen as the ideal. We will also look at two different ways of creating a system and how through careful cable matching and speaker/amp selection audio nirvana can be achieved.
Why match your components?
Let’s forget technical issues for the moment, what are we all looking for? The Holy Grail: the pursuit of the closet approach to the original sound (Thank you Peter J. Walker!), recreating a live performance with every subtle nuance so when closing ones eyes you are in the mixing suite or concert hall. Achieving this may seem to be daunting and expensive problem – granted super high end Audio is very expensive, large power transformers cost a lot, along with capacitors and other component parts, factor into this the time it takes to make these things and prices can hit the Stratosphere. However exceptional sound and realism can be gained with a little prior thought and the correct method of selecting each component.
Let’s take a look a couple of examples
We can know look at this two ways: Those who are starting a system and those who are unhappy with there existing sound including issues such as requiring more definition for example. This section will look at two specific systems that contain quite different equipment (system A and system B) both obtain equilibrium via careful matching. Those who are thinking about starting to build a system need to consider what expression of sound they are looking for – bright or natural are two options for example – there are many our customers require – it could also depend upon your music collection, certain sound properties will work better with different types of music, for example if you listen to mainly classical then a system with shimmering highs and larger drivers to recreate the scale of an orchestra could be the way forward. Check out this system:
The above system comprises of Cyrus 8A and KEF R500 loudspeakers, this system will offer sparkling highs, exceptional detail and a “hair on the back of the neck” standing up effect. The key is in the cable – both the speakers and amplifier are on the brighter side, the aluminium doped cones of the KEF are very well defined and highlight strings beautifully – the Cyrus is lean, equally as defined and very incisive with great stereo imaging. You may be thinking matching these two would result in an overly bright presentation but as mentioned the cables are key, using a Chord Anthem as interconnect from the source to amplifier – as a cable with a high purity of copper the Anthem allows warmth and depth to communicated to the amplifier but as the cable has extruded silver over the copper none of the aspects which make both components tick are lost. Presentation of vocals is crisp and they jump around your listening room with the right amount of etching, strings are sublime with ability to accurately distinguish between multiple orchestral instruments, this said things could become a little too bright if low quality or miss matched cables are added.
We have discussed matching brighter systems and reigning in possible over brightness with careful cable selection (something I will discuss later, regards tone control) It is possible to bring a brighter system back from the edge, systems that are overly dull is another matter – valve based kit can been seen by some as being sluggish and lack lustre, I believe personally this is very often due to incorrect cable and auxiliary equipment being attached. In a scenario such as this with a valve amplifier or class A amplifier in place I would recommend using brighter, quicker cables and sources, have a look at:
This system comprising of the Icon Audio Stereo 40 MKIII, ProAc D2 Reponse – this system will offer sublime natural soundscapes, musicality and timing (given the right cables and source) the amplifier is delightfully warm and responsive, the speakers are as natural sounding as bookshelf speakers get – at any price. If you are looking for a warmer tone then this is your option, if you are like me though I am imagine you require absolute definition, I want warmth and musicality but I also want to hear a musician break sting (Adrian Boult: Vaughan Williams Symphony No.6, Lark Ascending – Some where near the start!) using a Black Rhodium Opera is a good place to start: featuring solid core silver wire and excellent shielding this cable transfers signal lighting fast but a little leaner and brighter than a traditional copper based cable, this is not to say you lose any detail. The speaker cable is the Nordost Purple Flair, offering monofilament technology loss of detail is negligible and capacitance and resistance is kept low aiding to the speed of signal transfer. In my opinion the faster transfer the more your brain is tricked into thinking you are experiencing a performance, agree or disagree signal transfer certainly makes a difference to your impression of a system.
Cables, do they really make difference
Getting onto a controversial subject here, I certainly have heard the difference cables can make, this is of course system dependent. The higher end you get they become less “wow I have never heard that before” and more tone controls they become– I suppose in the simplest form a modern day bass and treble control, for example when comparing The Nordost Valhalla with the Chord Indigo both cables perform amazingly, they bring to life every subtle nuance but they do this very differently, the Valhalla is brighter, less mid heavy but the bass is so tight and it is properly the classiest sounding cable I have ever heard. The Indigo is a little edgier with a great thump in the midrange, lovely for live performance and truly breathtaking with female vocals! Both of those are super high end but the same principle applies with cable costing far less, please give us a call and we can offer a cable set matched perfectly to your existing system!
Why that amp, why those speakers?
We have covered why cables play a part in system matching but you may now be thinking why those specific speakers with the chosen amplifiers (system A, system B), there are numerous reasons, the main being: only choose good quality components – purchasing a high quality speaker and then a cheap amplifier from an unrepeatable source is not a good idea. Match good with good, contrary to popular belief this may not break the bank. Technical reasons do exist however; larger speakers with low sensitivity can be harder to drive – best going for a bigger amplifier here. The Ohm rating of the loudspeakers is important also. Customers quite often ask how Ohm’s affect a speaker – put basically the Ohm rating of a speaker is the resistance it puts up to the current provided by the amplifier – so when you see 100w into 8ohm and 150 watt into 4ohm on an amplifiers specification the reason for is a 4ohm speaker is less resistant to the current the amplifier is providing. So if you have a 4ohm speaker with smaller drivers you may choose a slightly less powerful amplifier than if you had an 8ohm speaker with larger drivers.
Choosing a source
So you have the majority of your system in place sounding musical and organic – you now need a source, again the same applies, as before – common sense is applicable but let your ears decide. For the first system a more analogue sounding player would work nicely such the Primare CD22 for the latter system perhaps something a little harder edged like the Roksan Caspian M2. As for record decks – give me call, complex! 0121 224 7401
Reflecting upon matching amp and speakers, some key thoughts: avoid matching low sensitivity speakers with low powered amplifiers, you will never get the most from your system! If you like bright kit this is not a problem but be careful you don’t want to end up with a system that hurts after ten minutes – if you are using softer sounding kit make sure your cables and source are up to the job! In reality covering every single aspect of system matching would take an eternity give me a RSI and you a headache but follow the basic steps and you are on the right track – if you want to go into more depth our friendly and approachable team are available for a chat – I am personally happy to talk for hours on why Cryo valves sound better and as always happy listening!