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Best Amplifier setup for B&W CM5 S2 and Rega Planar 1

lexis91

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Aug 22, 2023
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Hi all, I've moved my hifi setup upstairs, away from the tv. Currently using an Onkyo TX-NR646 receiver to power my B&W CM5 S2 speakers. I've connected my Rega Planar 1 directly to the phono input of the amp.

I'm looking to improve my setup. I've read a lot about (integrated) amps, phono preamps and read lots of reviews on the forums here as well. It actually got me a bit lost, probably because I'm not too proficient in the audio domain. I get a sense that you can go and endless amount of different directions, but I've summarised them to 3:
  • On the cheap: cheap phono pre amp and cheap stereo amp
  • Mid-range: Well known brand, integrated amp or separate phono pre amp + amp
  • High-end: Expensive stuff, probably not for me as this is a rabbit hole which I won't get out of and too expensive.
My budget is around $1000, but I'm looking to optimise and future proof the setup and improve the audio experience so I can use some help in setting this up.

Main requirements:
  • Best bang for my budget. Actual audible gain over the current Onkyo receiver. I'm not a huge audiophile, but just looking for a solid setup.
  • Enough power to power my B&W speakers. Don't know what you need to get a good performance from them. Suitable for small-medium room.
  • Optimised for vinyl input (MM) currently. Streaming is a nice to have, definitely not a must.
  • Nothing with a depth bigger than 38cm (<15inch) as it needs to fit in a cabinet :oops:
  • Headphone port

I've considered:
  • NAD D3020V2 or D3045v2
  • Cambridge Audio CXA61 with Solo/Duo preamp
  • Rega Fono MM MK3/5
  • Argon Audio SA1
  • Audiolab 6000A (Play)
  • Even some cheap stuff I came across on the forums: Fosi Audio v3, Schiit Mani, Art Precision Phono Pre, etc.
I'm curious to hear your guys' advice. I'm buying from Europe, so availability there would be great of course.
 
Hi and welcome to ASR :)

You have many, many options but there are some things to consider. I'd seriously advise reading a few threads here and letting all of this sink in and settle before you make any expensive change.

First up: your amp (Onyoko AVR) may actually be fine as it is. The DAC and Amplifier sections can probably be improved upon - but that improvement is not likely to be audible. That difference between measurably better and audibly better is a key one to understand.
DACs especially have to shockingly bad before you can hear a difference.

Enough power ... depends on your room size and how loud you listen ... your Amp has plenty of power and the speakers don't appear to be difficult to drive so you should be fine. How does it sound?

Turntable. Be prepared for many options telling you to drop vinyl and go digital :) It's your call so ignore that. Two points though; don't ignore streaming as you will get great quality that way.
I don't know anything about the Onyoko phono stage, but typically AVR stages are not great. Again, there might not be a great improvement but the Cambridge Audio Duo is one of the better measuring stages reviewed on this site.
I don't know what cartridge you have on your Rega ... that may be a simple upgrade. Up to the level of an Audio Technica AT VM95ML (£150 GBP) max.

Your Onyoko has AccuEQ room calibration ... give that a spin if you have not already. Room adjustments make a big impact on your sound and that could well be your biggest single upgrade.

Summary ...
Don't rush in. Read. Your electronics are quite possibly good enough for a long while
Try your existing AccuEQ
Investigate room measurements (REW) again, read. That gives you a baseline to improve upon.
Think about your Onyoko as a good amplifier - AVRs offer great features - you might want to add a phono stage. You could consider a cartridge or stylus upgrade.
Add a subwoofer? Your Onyoko can accommodate that. That does two things if you can set a crossover in your AVR: extends your bass, and takes a load off your main speakers which can improve their performance too

Sounds like a pretty good system already actually

Play music, enjoy
 
Where to start?
Do you have good sound at the moment? What exactly are you seeking from an upgrade? What is lacking in the sound, and is it something that you have heard in a different system elsewhere?

I can't find much in the way of measurements for either amp or speaker, but based on manufacturer specifications, there's not much you'll get from an amp upgrade in itself. The B&W probably have a midrange dip and increased treble in some way, but you have AccuEQ as pointed out to fix those issues if needed (you may prefer as is in your room of course).
If you are listening in a larger room and from a distance, you might need a bit more power in practice. So we need to know room size, where the speakers are placed, anything unusual about the room, and if it is heavily furnished or treated (you do say small to medium room, but more info always helps).

This looks to me like a seven year old system with a newer/new turntable, is that right? To decide what to do at the source, it's good to get an idea of the number of LPs you have and what you are using for digital music if anything. The amp has Spotify Connect and Deezer, so you appear to be well enough covered unless you have an urge for high res which you can best ignore. How do you find playing digital from the apps you'd be using?

You don;t mention what cartridge you have: assuming the Carbon cartridge, you may do better with a replacement with elliptical stylus. If you have a lot (hundreds) of LPs then my first port of call for you may actually be to save and buy a Planar 3 or equivalent. If you only have one or two records, I'd honestly just disconnect the turntable and forget about it. It's expensive, time consuming and digital will be better at least outside of the most "popular" music (what music do you play?) - if you've just got the turntable because you've read that it's "better" for sound, well it intrinsically is not. Every time I give that advice here, though, the recipient seems to be sat on several hundred LPs which to me is a convincing argument for being able to play them well!

If you're in that middle for LPs, do enjoy them and are becoming a collector, wait on changing much there, though pay good attention to setup of the turntable. If it is sat on a cabinet next to a speaker it will feed back and give a muddy sound. Best is a lightweight table or a wall shelf on a solid wall. There are other ways of isolating the turntable and it's worth asking in the turntable forum here about that.

If your listening is balanced towards digital or you have your turntable well set up and isolated, then your first point of call could also be one or maybe two subwoofers to improve the bass. Here again your amp has output for at least one sub and can integrate it.

So you have different ways to go. I think I've recommended changes everywhere except the amp! So it goes. It looks like some more information is in order for people to give you the best advice.
 
Wow Jeremy and Galliardist, those are great replies and exactly what I was looking for. Couple reactions to your points:

For Jeremy:
  • I've actually used AccuEQ when the setup was downstairs. Will redo for this small room.
  • There's a sub downstairs that I can use again in this room. It will add some bass that I missed before.
  • I have a nice and expanding vinyl collection and enjoy the experience of listening to it. Lets me value the music more.
  • I have a default cartridge in the Planar 1.
For Galliardist:
  • The room is very small: only 3m by 3m by 2.5m, decorated as an office. There's a desk, a bookshelf. The speakers are on a dressoir and the turntable is placed inside it. So there's maybe some feedback issue there, and stabilising the turntable could definitely help. But it won't be an issue when I listen through headphones.
  • I value my vinyl collection for the experience of listening to the music. It's a dull argument, I know, but actually working with vinyl lets me focus more on the music and listen with attention. I like it better than pressing play.
 
Wow Jeremy and Galliardist, those are great replies and exactly what I was looking for. Couple reactions to your points:

For Jeremy:
  • I've actually used AccuEQ when the setup was downstairs. Will redo for this small room.
  • There's a sub downstairs that I can use again in this room. It will add some bass that I missed before.
  • I have a nice and expanding vinyl collection and enjoy the experience of listening to it. Lets me value the music more.
  • I have a default cartridge in the Planar 1.
For Galliardist:
  • The room is very small: only 3m by 3m by 2.5m, decorated as an office. There's a desk, a bookshelf. The speakers are on a dressoir and the turntable is placed inside it. So there's maybe some feedback issue there, and stabilising the turntable could definitely help. But it won't be an issue when I listen through headphones.
  • I value my vinyl collection for the experience of listening to the music. It's a dull argument, I know, but actually working with vinyl lets me focus more on the music and listen with attention. I like it better than pressing play.
Thanks. That room is small and square which never helps! If you hear muddy bass through the speakers but not the headphones, then you need to look at the turntable isolation. You might also get something out of desktop stands for the speakers: getting the tweeter at ear height is going to be important in that small space. This is one case where pictures may help.

The headphones may be a better choice, in which case we need to know about them as well - and that might become a case for changing the amp or adding a dedicated headphone amp as AVR headphone outputs can be odd sometimes. That's going beyond my area of expertise a bit though.

As a confirmed digital user I find this business with needing vinyl to focus on music rather odd. I can focus on playing a whole album without that prop...
 
Wow Jeremy and Galliardist, those are great replies and exactly what I was looking for. Couple reactions to your points:

For Jeremy:
  • I've actually used AccuEQ when the setup was downstairs. Will redo for this small room.
  • There's a sub downstairs that I can use again in this room. It will add some bass that I missed before.
  • I have a nice and expanding vinyl collection and enjoy the experience of listening to it. Lets me value the music more.
  • I have a default cartridge in the Planar 1.
For Galliardist:
  • The room is very small: only 3m by 3m by 2.5m, decorated as an office. There's a desk, a bookshelf. The speakers are on a dressoir and the turntable is placed inside it. So there's maybe some feedback issue there, and stabilising the turntable could definitely help. But it won't be an issue when I listen through headphones.
  • I value my vinyl collection for the experience of listening to the music. It's a dull argument, I know, but actually working with vinyl lets me focus more on the music and listen with attention. I like it better than pressing play.
Cool ... remember to run AccuEQ after you add the Sub to allow the crossover to be set properly (and try it without the Sub first in case you actually prefer that). Explore streaming.

That cartridge (Rega Carbon?) gets decent reviews but it does have a simple conical stylus. On reflection, it's not worth spending more money than your TT cost to upgrade, but an Eliptical, or MicroLine stylus will give you a lift. Audio Technica AT VM95E? That's upgradable in future with a stylus change if you get the bug. Don't underestimate that this needs to be set up properly - alignment and tracking - and you may not want the hassle. A local dealer may do this for you?

Enjoy :)
 
Thanks. That room is small and square which never helps! If you hear muddy bass through the speakers but not the headphones, then you need to look at the turntable isolation. You might also get something out of desktop stands for the speakers: getting the tweeter at ear height is going to be important in that small space. This is one case where pictures may help.

The headphones may be a better choice, in which case we need to know about them as well - and that might become a case for changing the amp or adding a dedicated headphone amp as AVR headphone outputs can be odd sometimes. That's going beyond my area of expertise a bit though.

As a confirmed digital user I find this business with needing vinyl to focus on music rather odd. I can focus on playing a whole album without that prop...
Thank you! The tweeters are currently a bit below ear height, but if I adjust my desk chair to be lower that'll help!

The headphones are a pairs of Sennheiser HD560S. I find bass a bit lacking, but that could be because I listen to hiphop on digital streaming a lot, so have become a bit used to deep 808s bass. Which I do enjoy though!
 
Cool ... remember to run AccuEQ after you add the Sub to allow the crossover to be set properly (and try it without the Sub first in case you actually prefer that). Explore streaming.

That cartridge (Rega Carbon?) gets decent reviews but it does have a simple conical stylus. On reflection, it's not worth spending more money than your TT cost to upgrade, but an Eliptical, or MicroLine stylus will give you a lift. Audio Technica AT VM95E? That's upgradable in future with a stylus change if you get the bug. Don't underestimate that this needs to be set up properly - alignment and tracking - and you may not want the hassle. A local dealer may do this for you?

Enjoy :)
Will upgrading the cartridge get me more bang for buck than adding a phono stage or a different amp?
 
Will upgrading the cartridge get me more bang for buck than adding a phono stage or a different amp?
Honestly don't think you need to upgrade your amp.

It's possible (even likely) that you can improve on the phono stage with an external one - check the Review Index here. Improvements may not be very audible though. It's a bit of a gamble, but not an expensive one.

Upgrading your stylus from conical to elliptical (or microline) will definitely improve the sound. We have similar quality TTs and my best upgrade was from the Ortofon OM5e to an elliptical OM20 stylus - in the same body, so no tricky adjustments. Finer stylus shapes actually fit the vinyl groove better and retrieve more detail (from clean vinyl), it's a mechanical upgrade.
Here's something worth looking at ... I've heard some good things, but I have no measurements or direct experience so there's a bit of caveat emptor: https://www.lpgear.com/product/REGACARBONUPSTY.html

This only affects your vinyl sound, obviously

This is absolutely the change that I would make, then nothing else (not even phono stage) until I'd made some measurements and some room adjustments ... even just raising your speakers a little to ear height.
 
Thank you! The tweeters are currently a bit below ear height, but if I adjust my desk chair to be lower that'll help!

The headphones are a pairs of Sennheiser HD560S. I find bass a bit lacking, but that could be because I listen to hiphop on digital streaming a lot, so have become a bit used to deep 808s bass. Which I do enjoy though!
This is where my knowledge runs out a bit, but I don't think your AVR has headphone EQ. That means a separate headphone amp with EQ, or headphones that sit better to the Harman curve in the bass area - go read the headphone and amp reviews. You'll need to read the manual to find out how you can add both a headphone amp and subwoofer, by the look of things.

I just plug headphones into a computer and use Equaliser APO, but that doesn't help if you want to listen to LPs through headphones: you could just plug phones into two different players though!
 
Honestly don't think you need to upgrade your amp.

It's possible (even likely) that you can improve on the phono stage with an external one - check the Review Index here. Improvements may not be very audible though. It's a bit of a gamble, but not an expensive one.

Upgrading your stylus from conical to elliptical (or microline) will definitely improve the sound. We have similar quality TTs and my best upgrade was from the Ortofon OM5e to an elliptical OM20 stylus - in the same body, so no tricky adjustments. Finer stylus shapes actually fit the vinyl groove better and retrieve more detail (from clean vinyl), it's a mechanical upgrade.
Here's something worth looking at ... I've heard some good things, but I have no measurements or direct experience so there's a bit of caveat emptor: https://www.lpgear.com/product/REGACARBONUPSTY.html

This only affects your vinyl sound, obviously

This is absolutely the change that I would make, then nothing else (not even phono stage) until I'd made some measurements and some room adjustments ... even just raising your speakers a little to ear height.
I think this looks the right course.

Though personally I'd consider seeing to the rest of the setup (sub, speaker height and AccuEQ) and putting that $1000 to a Rega 3 or equivalent: then when funds permit deal with the headphone bass: or just use your computer for listening when you need the EQ.
 
I think this looks the right course.

Though personally I'd consider seeing to the rest of the setup (sub, speaker height and AccuEQ) and putting that $1000 to a Rega 3 or equivalent: then when funds permit deal with the headphone bass: or just use your computer for listening when you need the EQ.
Here's where all the different opinions come through :) I'd spend the money on a pair of Subs and some second hand speakers: Kef R3, Wharfdale Linton Heritage 85, Revel F35 or whatever active Genelec I could afford. (not my money though :) )
 
Here's where all the different opinions come through :) I'd spend the money on a pair of Subs and some second hand speakers: Kef R3, Wharfdale Linton Heritage 85, Revel F35 or whatever active Genelec I could afford. (not my money though :) )
I got out of vinyl years ago. If I was to get back in though, a Rega 3 would be the absolute minimum I'd consider as a turntable, with a good MM cartridge: I always preferred suspended decks of some sort, though I had a Linn Axis for years.

I don't like B&W speakers for the most part, either.

That advice I gave, it's best to tailor what you say to the question being asked and the startiing point for who's asking: better speakers/headphones are the obvious way ahead for digital sources, and then get an amp to match, but there's no way that vinyl is a "solved" source, and mechanical engineering comes at a price. So for me, spend the time on the setup and the money on a better turntable.

In Europe, there's the possibility of a Technics for not that much more money than the Planar 3, isn't there... that sort of level of turntable would do for life, the Planar 1 maybe not.
 
I got out of vinyl years ago. If I was to get back in though, a Rega 3 would be the absolute minimum I'd consider as a turntable, with a good MM cartridge: I always preferred suspended decks of some sort, though I had a Linn Axis for years.

I don't like B&W speakers for the most part, either.

That advice I gave, it's best to tailor what you say to the question being asked and the startiing point for who's asking: better speakers/headphones are the obvious way ahead for digital sources, and then get an amp to match, but there's no way that vinyl is a "solved" source, and mechanical engineering comes at a price. So for me, spend the time on the setup and the money on a better turntable.

In Europe, there's the possibility of a Technics for not that much more money than the Planar 3, isn't there... that sort of level of turntable would do for life, the Planar 1 maybe not.
Well, I appreciate your honesty. It's a tough swallow as the Planar 1 was a birthday gift from my wife from 3 years ago. So upgrading that one won't be... the best choice for me maybe!

I'll look into the upgraded stylus, move the sub upstairs and look into some headphone updates/amps. Before going to separate phono stage and in the end, refreshing the setup and accommodate for digital music too.
 
Enough power to power my B&W speakers
I've powered mine with a 7 watt amp and while it wasn't enough to go loud, it was enough for most of the time. I've got a 60 watt amp driving them now and accidentally went full volume on it once. I was down the hall in another room and it literally sounded like the music was playing in that room. With a little bit of low end boost I get down to a nice even 30Hz in room with them at reasonable volume levels. If you go loud then crossing over to a subwoofer might be a good idea.

A lot of people will automatically bash B&W speakers but, to me, the CM5 S2 are really nice speakers. They sound natural and like the music is coming from that side of the room rather than individual speakers. I listened to about 20 other speakers the day I bought mine, including larger B&W ones, and I wasn't even shopping for speakers. I was just killing time pressing buttons in the listening room while my wife used the restroom. When she found me and I cycled through all of them for her she said "we should buy those".

Too late to cut a long story short but I think your amp should have plenty of power. I know next to nothing about turntables, but if you listen to any digital sources it might be worth getting an external DAC.
 
the Planar 1 was a birthday gift from my wife from 3 years ago.
That, as they say, changes everything! No way would I be changing that for a long time.

As an aside,I know someone who once took the belt of their old Thorens to say to the wife it was bust and time for a new one. But she took it in for repair... consequences were severe.

Your plan sounds best,
 
The CM5's are nice speakers. I still have a pair that have been replaced by a more performant speaker, Revel M106. In stock form the CM5's definitely have the showroom sound, deep bass and extended top end with recessed mids, which I was able to confirm with REW that matched Stereophile measurements. I was able to significantly improve the sound with DSP, and you will get the best bang for your buck with it (even more than phono cartridge upgrade).

Maybe consider an integrated amp like Outlaw Audio RR2160 that will allow you to insert a MiniDSP 2x4HD into the pre-out/main-in loop. New these will run you $1250 but you should be able to get under $1k if you shop used. This will give you everything you could need.
 
The CM5's are nice speakers. I still have a pair that have been replaced by a more performant speaker, Revel M106. In stock form the CM5's definitely have the showroom sound, deep bass and extended top end with recessed mids, which I was able to confirm with REW that matched Stereophile measurements. I was able to significantly improve the sound with DSP, and you will get the best bang for your buck with it (even more than phono cartridge upgrade).

Maybe consider an integrated amp like Outlaw Audio RR2160 that will allow you to insert a MiniDSP 2x4HD into the pre-out/main-in loop. New these will run you $1250 but you should be able to get under $1k if you shop used. This will give you everything you could need.
Hi Aaron, unfortunately I’m not familiar with a DSP and don’t really know what that does or means and how a pre out / main in loop works. Can you maybe help me understand a bit?

A DSP is a digital signal processor right? But using a turntable, how would that be valuable in my analog setup? Thanks!
 
Hi Aaron, unfortunately I’m not familiar with a DSP and don’t really know what that does or means and how a pre out / main in loop works. Can you maybe help me understand a bit?

A DSP is a digital signal processor right? But using a turntable, how would that be valuable in my analog setup? Thanks!
DSP is to correct problems with the room - all your playback channels will benefit from it. Take a look at Room EQ Wizard (REW) to learn about what it can do for your system and how powerful it can be. If you're feeling less adventurous, consider purchasing a Dirac Live license.

The pre-out/main-in loop basically takes whatever is coming out of the amplifier input, sends it to the processor, and then returns the processed signal back into the amp. I use a MiniDSP Flex running Dirac Live using the loop in my integrated amp. Turntable goes into the integrated's phono section, out the pre-out into the MiniDSP Flex, back into the amp through the main-in, and then to the speakers. The Flex also handles my subwoofer integration with a 80Hz crossover.
 
Hi Aaron, unfortunately I’m not familiar with a DSP and don’t really know what that does or means and how a pre out / main in loop works. Can you maybe help me understand a bit?

A DSP is a digital signal processor right? But using a turntable, how would that be valuable in my analog setup? Thanks!
Your AccuEQ is DSP ... already available to you ... and can adjust your amps frequency output so that issues with your room or speakers are corrected (a bit, it's not simple). As an AVR it should also handle Sub integration.
Because this processing takes place in your amp then your turntable signal is already corrected too.
There may be more sophisticated DSP systems, but you've got the tools now.
 
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