Q&A‌: Should I Buy A Better Amp Or Better Speakers?

A Reader Writes:

Q: Hello, I’m looking for some advice about whether to upgrade my speakers first or my amplifier as I don’t think I afford to do both simultaneously.

First my current setup: a 1978 Yamaha CR820 Receiver and a Technics turntable from the same era. I stream Spotify into the aux input from my iPad using the dragonfly red USB DAC and a pair of AudioQuest cables. The speaker outs feed into an active PSB subwoofer with a built-in crossover and into a pair of entry-level $300/pr Wharfedale Diamond 220s. I’m in a condo with the room approx 10ft wide x 20ft long and 8ft ceilings. The sound is rich and powerful. But I’m thinking I’d like to upgrade if it would bring noticeable improvements in sound quality.

Speakers- I’ve been Lusting over the vintage look of the Wharfedale Linton’s and I hear they are a great value but worry if they’ll be too large for my condo. I’ve also heard the KEF LS50‘S might be a little cleaner and offer more 3D soundstage.

Amplifier- or would I get more bang for my buck by upgrading my amplifier first. I’ve considered the Cambridge Audio XCa81 or spending way above my budget and going for the Prima Luna evo100 as I’ve heard tube amps offer musicality that solid states can’t. I’ve also considered a mid-range Yamaha as801 since it has tone controls, digital in and a phono preamp built-in… a good overall value. I wonder how much the Yamaha sound would have changed over the years.

Anyways as you can tell I’m swimming with ideas right now and looking for clarity and focus on the right move. The COVID shut down doesn’t make it easy either as audio stores are shut down in my region.

Thanks in advance!

-S.L.

A. Ah, this is an issue just about every audiophile will face at some point. Unless you’re swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck that is. For the rest of us, with limited discretionary income, the decision of whether to advance your hi-fi system via the purchase of superior speakers vs. finer amplification can seem like a life or death choice.

Of course, this decision will depend on what you start with, and in the reader’s case, it looks like they have a decent vintage stereo receiver along with some quality entry-level speakers.

Upgrading is all about picking the weakest link in the system. That means if you’re not satisfied with the sound you have, you need to find the component most responsible for the issues you’re hearing.

The quality of a system’s sound comes from the sum of its parts. You can have excellent high-resolution speakers, but if they are at the end of a chain with less than great source components, then you will get less than great results.

The reader states the sound from their system was “rich and powerful,” so I’m not sure precisely what improvement they are looking for. But assuming they are looking for a general increase in clarity, I usually recommend starting by upgrading electronics.

Since they seem to have some pretty good speakers already with the Wharfedale/PSB combo, I think they would get the most bang for the buck in a more powerful, modern, and most likely cleaner sounding amplifier.

At that point, they will get to hear what their speakers are capable of and grow from there.

I noticed they mentioned the PrimaLuna Evo100 tube amp, which is a very “musical” or natural sounding amp, and one of my personal favorites the Cambridge Audio CXA81, which is a more “muscular” or dynamic sounding amp. The CXA81 will “push” your speakers and bring out more low end along with clean highs.

The PrimaLuna will give you a warmer, more nuanced sound that will probably sound closer to real music, but it may be boring to some. The amp that works best for the reader will depend on their ear.

I recommend that they try to listen to both, by either borrowing them from a high-end audio dealer or by purchasing them from a dealer with a good return policy. I would start with the CXA81 since it’s probably the more versatile (and cheaper) component. I hope that helps!

BTW, if you have a question about 2-Channel audio, whether it be about the gear itself, or setup, drop us a line at info@hifitrends.com! You may see your inquiry published on the site!

 

Awesome! The Best Integrated Amplifiers Around $1000 (2020)

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