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Please help with building my first system!

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#1
Hi All,

First post here, although I feel like I have spent at least 40 hours this week reading posts - it really draws you in!

I'm looking to buy my first real (albeit very budget) hi-fi system and would really appreciate your thoughts or opinions on my short-list of kit. First off, a bit of context. I am looking a reasonably small system to fit in a medium sized open-plan living/dining room. This will be a family system mostly used for streaming from spotify or other web sources (I'll probably add some hi-res services to my subscriptions too) - most often used for casual listening. I would love to be picking out a "serious listening" system as well but unfortunately we just don't have the space in our house at the moment! The primary sources will be bluetooth from phones and a Raspberry Pi based streamer (usb output). Even though this will be a budget system I would still like it to sound a good as possible! This will be my first step towards slowly building a real hifi addiction :) .

I have managed to whittle down to a couple of options which I will present below. I would really love some help deciding which is the better option and if there are any other considerations that I have missed!

System 1 (~£630)
The first was an attempt to create a decent sounding but simple (fewer boxes) system so I went with a set of powered speakers with bluetooth built in. These don't have a USB input so I have added an external USB DAC.
  • Topping E30 DAC
  • AudioEngine HD6
Pros: Very simple - two boxes (plus RPi).
Cons: HD6s are possibly slightly overpriced for sound quality? Less flexibility for upgrading components in the future.

System 2(~£540)

After coming up with the first system I kept seeing post to suggest that a well chosen power amp/passive speaker combo could sound better for the same money as a powered set (especially if they don't need to include BT etc built-in). So I went hunting to build a system for the same budget with separate amp/speaker. Note that I kept the E30 here even though the SA-300 has a DAC because of the better performance.
  • Toppping E30
  • SMSL SA-300
  • ELAC Debut B6.2 or Q Acoustics 3030i
Pros: More flexibility in future upgrades. Ended up coming up under budget.
Cons: Unsure how well the amp/speakers will pair. Slightly more complicated, more wiring. Redundant DAC in SA-300

Final couple of questions to also add:
Any comments on ELAC B6.2 vs QA 3030i? Especially when paired with the SA-300?
I have also found a pair of QAs 3020i speakers for about £70 which I think may be large enough to still fill my room - would these also be a suitable option for System 2 and bring the cost down even further?
Alternatively is there another set of even "better" speakers I could substitute in System 2 whilst not stepping over the ~£630 mark? B6.2/3030i are about £300 in UK at the moment, so something about the £400 mark?

Looking forward to the guidance of all you more knowledgeable people. Thanks in advance!
 

q3cpma

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#2
If you're going the "less boxes, better quality" route with a decent budget and nearfield situation, I suggest you look at the Genelec 8020D at ~£650/pair.
If you're far enough for hiss to not matter, the Kali LP6 or JBL LSR305p are the obvious best choices, though.
 

Wes

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#3
The speakers are the critical issue as your post seems to hint.

But the speakers have to work well in the room *which usually will benefit from treatments).

So, tell us about the room...

In England, I assume it is not really large(?)
 
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Thread Starter #4
The speakers are the critical issue as your post seems to hint.

But the speakers have to work well in the room *which usually will benefit from treatments).

So, tell us about the room...

In England, I assume it is not really large(?)
*Scotland :)

The room is 3.5m x 7m. It's average height for a modern house. Wooden* (tiled laminate stuff) floors. The speakers will have to end up either on a nice long side unit (space for good separation) at about ear level when seated, or on speaker stands. The main room also extends through an opening (knocked through wall so maybe double the width of a doorway) into the kitchen which I guess gives the total space more volume. This ends up creating a L shape for the two rooms. The kitchen is about 2.5m x 4.7m. If the speakers are on the side unit they will end up facing into the kitchen opening across the width of the dining/living room. I should probably add that I will be resticted by how much space the speaker can have, especially from a wall behind it. I probably can't buy anything that is too fussy about being placed within 30-50cm of a wall (if possible!).

If you're going the "less boxes, better quality" route with a decent budget and nearfield situation, I suggest you look at the Genelec 8020D at ~£650/pair.
If you're far enough for hiss to not matter, the Kali LP6 or JBL LSR305p are the obvious best choices, though.
Do you think the Kali/JBLs are far superior sounding to the other speakers mentioned? I am in a strange situation where I would like to be able to fill the room with sound which is not going to be nearfield, but when sat at the dining table I would end up basically in a nearfield arrangement (~1-2m from speakers and right in between them. Hiss might be an issue in this case if it is present at quiet levels.
 

tomtoo

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#5
Get a wuzhi 1002t and a 24v/5a power supply.
50€
Get the ELAC Debut B6.2.

Stream over BT, all good. If you like to make it better. It is more complicated.
 

q3cpma

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#6
Do you think the Kali/JBLs are far superior sounding to the other speakers mentioned?
Yes, the directivity will be smoother and bass fuller. I personally have no experience with these two, but hiss is a commonly mentioned problem, so beware; if distance can be as low as 1 m, i fear it's going to be too bad.
The mentioned Genelecs won't have any problem of the sort, though.
 
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Thread Starter #7
Yes, the directivity will be smoother and bass fuller. I personally have no experience with these two, but hiss is a commonly mentioned problem, so beware; you can always return them if it is problematic.
Is the JBL LSR305p MKII what you are referring too? I'm not of the difference from the original model but can't find the originals for sale any more. £210 for a pair is very good though!
 
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Thread Starter #9
Ok the JBLs look good. If I go that route I would prefer to drive then from the XLR in so would need to replace the Topping E30 with a DAC with balanced XLR out. Preferably this DAC would have have bluetooth in to save another box. I would also prefer to have both a volume knob and remote if possible to keep it user friendly for the family!

Looking around the SMSL M500 seems to be a very good option - but costs significantly more than the E30.
The SMSL M200 also looks like it could be an option but I can't find much info about this, and no measurements.

Does anyone have any other suggestions of DACs that might fit these requirements?
 

q3cpma

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#10
Ok the JBLs look good. If I go that route I would prefer to drive then from the XLR in so would need to replace the Topping E30 with a DAC with balanced XLR out. Preferably this DAC would have have bluetooth in to save another box. I would also prefer to have both a volume knob and remote if possible to keep it user friendly for the family!

Looking around the SMSL M500 seems to be a very good option - but costs significantly more than the E30.
The SMSL M200 also looks like it could be an option but I can't find much info about this, and no measurements.

Does anyone have any other suggestions of DACs that might fit these requirements?
Can't you make the Raspberry receive BT with a dongle?
 
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Thread Starter #12
Can't you make the Raspberry receive BT with a dongle?
I think so. But I wasn't 100% until I got the stuff delivered and tried it. If there were excellent DAC options without the bluetooth option I would be fine with that. Can always use something like Topping BC3 if the RPI route doesn't work.
 
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Thread Starter #13
@bmarshall will you be implementing room correction using the RPI?
I'm new to all this, but if I can get the software to do it then yes, at least some basic correction. I'm not in a position to take any fancy measurements at the moment unfortunately.
 

TimW

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#14
I'm new to all this, but if I can get the software to do it then yes, at least some basic correction. I'm not in a position to take any fancy measurements at the moment unfortunately.
Learning how to measure your room and correct for it will bring big improvements. I would recommend keeping the option for future room correction open. If you do it via the rpi then you would want it to be your only source.

Of course you should also get as good of speakers as you can afford and figure out the best position for them in your room. Check out the Preference Ratings of the speakers tested here. This is by no means the definitive way for comparing speaker performance, and many here have disagreements with it, but it is useful. You will see that the JBL 305P scores 4.64 and the Kali IN-8 scores 5.12. These scores are pretty close and you wouldn't necessarily prefer the Kali IN-8 even though it has the higher score. I will say I've owned a couple pairs of 305s and I find this hiss annoying. Tonally they are pretty accurate and they sound good, but I prefer my Philharmonic AAM's. The ELAC Debut 6.2's are another great option for this budget.
 
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#15
Redundant DAC in SA-300
The S.M.S.L. DA-8s (US$170) uses the same Infineon amp chip and has the same amp specs (82dB SINAD, same power output). You lose the USB DAC, and gain balanced XLR in, and possibly a more precise volume control chip.

Does anyone have any other suggestions of DACs that might fit these requirements?
Soncoz LA-QXD1 (balanced XLR out, no BT, US$200). Reviewed by Amir here on ASR.
 
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andreasmaaan

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#16
I'm not sure I'd recommend the 305P (MkII). Unless you're willing/able to EQ it, it's frequency response is pretty off:

1602276764243.png


The treble is elevated 3-5dB relative to the lower-midrange. Other than it's excellent directivity and bass extension for a cheap speaker, I don't think it's not going to sound great out of the box (although with EQ it will sound excellent). Very good value for money though, as @q3cpma mentioned.
 
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Thread Starter #17
Ok EQ'ing the 305s to get the best performance is noted. I also do have a little concern about the often reported hiss when up close.

If I go back to a passive setup then the ELAC B6.2s look really good for my budget.
The SMSL DA-8S suggested above looks nice (more attractive than the SA-300). In order to make use of the balanced input though I would have to jump up the cost in the DAC. The Soncoz LA-QXD1 also suggested above (thanks @JustAnandaDourEyedDude) looks good but pushes the cost up by ~£90.

Total cost of that system would be about £640 so not too much more than my first attempts. I guess my question on that is how much will I gain from the Soncoz LA-QXD1 DAC and a balanced connection to the amp over the E30 with just an unbalanced RCA? Am i going to hear the difference?

Thanks for the help so far!
 

TimW

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#18
This 3eAudio amp has built in bluetooth 5.0 and DSP. There is a thread about it here. You could use it out of the box like the SMSL DA-8S but you could also use the DSP for room correction and speaker EQ. It has an analog input you could use to connect to a DAC from the RPI. With this setup you would have DSP applied to the RPI streamer and the bluetooth connection.

You won't hear any difference between single ended connections and balanced connections of equal quality as long as there isn't a ground loop. I would consider purchasing an even cheaper DAC like the Apple USB-C Dongle. Most of your budget should go into the speakers.
 

andreasmaaan

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#20
I second @q3cpma and @TimW's suggestions. There is no need to spend more than a few $ on the DAC, and there is certainly no need for balanced connections in a typical home environment. I own both the Apple USB-C dongle that Tim mentioned and the much more expensive (and balanced) RME Adi-2 DAC FS, and cannot hear a difference between them when level-matched.
 
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