May 13, 2012

Back to Basics

I think there is no better music to an audiophile dad’s ear than to hear his children ask, “Can I have a hifi set in my room? I want to listen to some music.” That was what happened to me a few weeks ago. My teenage son threw me that very question. I, of course, very gladly obliged.

Not wanting to get overboard with his first system, I decided to use whatever was lying around and add the missing others at the entry level.

The loudspeaker part was easy. I still keep my first ever pair of hifi loudspeakers with me. They are the Signet SL260B/U, given to me by my father. So it is definitely fitting to pass them on to the next generation. Signet was quite a rage here when they first came onto the hifi scene 20 years ago. Their good sound quality helped, their excellent value helped (a pair of SL260B/U went for around RM1,500), but I am sure they also had a big boost from the many endorsements given by The Star’s Audiofile reviewers. The brand has gone out of business, but the product endures. I took the pair of Signets out of their wrappings, dusted them down a little, pressed them into service and immediately there was music. In fact, they are performing quite admirably still twenty years on, more on this later.

For the frontend and amplifier I had to source something new. I went cheapskate with the frontend. Instead of a proper CD player, I decided to use a cheap Pioneer DV-3022KV DVD player that was originally intended for our second TV. Not knowing how my son’s music interest would turn out, whether he’d go the iPod, CAS, or the old school CD way, I decided to skimp on the expense for the time being. For an outlay of around RM200 for the Pioneer I am not going to complain. But this is definitely an area with potential upgradeability.

It then crossed my mind that Hi-Way Laser was having a clearance sale. Paying Kenny a visit, he suggested either an entry level Marantz or a NAD for the amplifier. I had some good experience in the past listening to these 2 companies’ products. One can’t make a mistake with either. I settled on a NAD C315BEE integrated amplifier (RM1,280 clearance price) eventually. I gathered from some googling that the NAD C315BEE was supposed to be the replacement for NAD’s legendary 3020 integrated amplifier, that is as good a place to start as any for a budding audiophile.

The Pioneer and the NAD both came with captive powercords, so nothing further was needed there. For loudspeaker cables, I used some old Oehlbach, which I bought during the same era as the Signet. The interconnects are the only audiophile ‘luxury’ in this system, they are a pair of vdH The First from my unused cable ‘collection’. So here I have a situation where the cables are more expensive than the components they are connected to, a situation I would not normally endorse if one needs to fork out money to procure the cables.

The system was put together thus and the whole shebang was placed on a rather sturdy Ikea bookshelf in my son’s bedroom. A few hours of run-in was done for the system, in account that the NAD just got out of its box.

What I heard after this was rather impressive for such a low outlay. Firstly, this humble little system does the first few fundamental things right by my book – the high is not bright, it is also not harsh; the low is not boomy nor is it too fat, it has rather good speed and keeps excellent rhythm; the mid is not the thin and reedy type, instead it has rather good body and sounding organic. Secondly, the room with all its furnishings does not induce echo or cause the sound to become noisy, too busy or confused, like an empty room would. Thirdly, the sound is coherent, even with some overcooked pop recordings. It is surprisingly musical, I could and was even attracted to listen on and on, and that was with a teenager’s typical music diet, which in this case consists mostly of pop recordings from the likes of Maroon 5, One Direction, Grayson Chance, Owl City, Adele etc...

The NAD is a gutsy little integrated amplifier. It shows excellent control and very good dynamic and loudness capability, though it is just rated at 40w per channel, with 90w available under dynamic condition. Many times we did not realize how loud the music actually was, until we discovered that we had to raise our voice in order to talk to each other. The sound remained clean, clear and musical at humanly acceptable loudness level, confirming that the pairing of NAD and Signet went pretty well. I'd think the NAD C315BEE would also match well with other entry level British loudspeakers at the RM1-2k range such as offerings from Q Acoustics, KEF, Mission and others.

Of course, I am not saying that this little system can rival a highend system. For examples, it does not extend as far out at both ends of the frequency spectrum; there is a little bit of dryness to the sound; it also does not have the silky smoothness of a highend system. Looking at the photo, the audiophile in us will immediately say that the positioning of the loudspeakers is also all wrong. Indeed, there is no soundstaging to be spoken of. The music sounds a bit constricted if I adopt the audiophile practice of sitting a few feet away and listening at the middle axis between the loudspeakers.

However, not wearing my audiophile hat, I was actually quite enjoying this new musical experience, with new music and new artists (these 'new's are to me, of course).  The listening could be done by sitting at the study table at the side of the room, lying down on the bed or sitting on the floor. The sound quality and the balance are kept well enough for pretty good music enjoyment. This is what I am pleasantly surprised with.

A few things can definitely be improved on - spread the loudspeakers further apart and place them on stands, separate the components instead of stacking them, upgrade the frontend. Well, that is work for the future.

For now, it is music time. Since the day the system was put together, I heard music coming out of my son’s room every day.

And that is music to my ears too.


Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...


Before you know it, your son may turn his room into a proper listening room and sleep in yours! Hahaha...

Lucky fellow and an excellent entry system bar dvd player! Eventhough it is a Pioneer!

Good stuff and glad to have a potential fellow audiophile among us!

Ken said...

A good start.

Your son can play around with the tone controls if he doesn's like the sound!