My System Sounds Amazing. What's Wrong With It?

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Q I recently bought new Magnepan speakers. I’m using them with a Pioneer SC-07 reciever. I am amazed by the sound, I but have been told that my Magnepans would really come alive with more power. Am I missing out? The sound is great compared with what I heard from my previous system. I've also been told that a tube amp would really make my Magnepans sing. Is that the case? And what kind of budget would I need to get something better than what I currently have? —Terry T.

A I’m going to dispense with my usual AV advisor role for this question and instead act as your therapist. Do you find it difficult to appreciate good things in life? To live in the moment? Because what I’m detecting here are distinct signs of Audiophilia Nervosa.

You say the sound with your current system is “great,” especially in comparison with what you heard from your previous system. That you are “amazed” by it. Is great and amazing sound not good enough? The two signs that confirm my diagnosis of Audiophilia Nervosa are your questions concerning tube amps and the kind of budget you’d need to get even better sound. The idea that a tube amp can make a particular speaker “sing” is a romantic audiophile notion, not something that’s based on any kind of objective testing or research. In fact, a tube amp might even make a particular speaker sound worse than a solid-state amp. And the answer to your question about budgeting for better sound? The sky’s the limit.

Putting back on my AV advisor hat, I will tell you from experience that more power can have an impact on a speaker’s sound. In the case of Magnepan speakers, which tend to have low sensitivity and are rated for 4 ohms, a more powerful amp should deliver sound with greater dynamic ease and clarity. That said, Pioneer’s Elite SC-07 receiver performed exceptionally well on the test bench when Sound & Vision reviewed it, nearly doubling its 140 watts x 2 rated power into a 4-ohm load. To judge from your enthusiastic reaction to your current system’s sound, that receiver is making your Magnepans sing.

K.Reid's picture

Terry - look into purchasing a separate outboard two channel amplifier by either Emotiva or Parasound. Emotiva is well regarded and well made amplifiers and other products. The XPA-2 from them is great. You could also step up to the Parasound model 2125 v.2. You may not like the sound that class D amps provide. Both the models I suggest are more traditional Class A and or AB designs

FarmerBob's picture

What I found as a major disappointment with my high end speaker system was the new Pioneer AVR I bought. It replaced a 12 year old VSX-D909S that was amazing and still works great. It just didn't have HDMI nor the new codecs. I thought Pioneer was a no brainer since I have 6 various models of AVR's, and many DVD, CD, LaserDisc, and Cassette Tape players that I love. Come to find out, Pioneer has really gone down hill and their retail division has been sold off. So if I were you, I would find an "old school" "style" AVR with contemporary features and lots of power. That's what I am doing as soon as I sell off this POS Pioneer unit. I'm thinking Yamaha. Just installed an MOR model for a friend and it's amazing and made me really realize how bad my Pioneer is.

The speakers are probably just fine. It's the SC-07. Especially these days with everyone switching to Digital Power. It may be "greener" and run more efficiently, but you lose "Quality of Sound". Just like CD's, it's hollow and does not have the solid richness that Vinyl and Tube/Analog amps do. Lose the Pioneer and get a unit that is worthy of your speakers.

dmineard's picture

Terry, I agree with the reviewer on what he has said. But I also agree with K. Reid regarding looking at Parasound amplifiers. They have two, three, and a five channel version. Rated at 250 watts at 8 ohms and 400 watts at 4 ohms.

I have had my Parasound 5.1 for 2 year and the sound quality improvement from my 125 watt Denon separate amps was amazing.
In this case, MORE is better. There is a direct correlation to sound improvement. Finally, congrats on the new Magnepan speakers.

MattJP's picture

I read this letter and the response and had to laugh a little. I feel like the author doesn't have the nervosa, but maybe a friend. Personally, after spending a lot of time and money on upgrades to my system, that all I'm doing is feeding a consumer machine while avoiding my own real issues of inadequacy. What do I mean by this, well not as Freudian as it sounds. I mean that in most cases I had no real reason to believe the sound was bad, I just wanted more. I read about people who sounded happier with their music than I did, and I wanted that. I thought about the ideal, live music reproduced in my room from recordings, and I wanted that. I created ideals that no system could obtain, and was persistently unhappy. Honestly, I believe that a small dose of Zoloft would make a more profound difference in sound quality than most of the upgrades we audiophiles make (Look I have expensive speaker wire, power cords, and acoustic treatments, I'm just making the point that we shouldn't lose sleep over this stuff). My opinion would be to enjoy your system and spend time getting to know and love your system as is.

Beyond that, in terms of upgrades, while I believe that the amplifier makes a difference, I agree with the responses given initially. The Pioneer is a potent receiver with plenty of power. You may or may not like the sound of a bigger amplifier better, but I would suggest that of all upgrades, it will be one of the most subtle. I would look into other upgrades first (and after you've spent enough time listening to the current system, loving it, and deciding that something specific isn't right. I would suggest that acoustic treatments, while harder to do, are a better upgrade and will make a more profound difference in sound. I don't know if you have a subwoofer. If not, I would add one. If you do, I would add more and spend some time setting them up such that bass is smoothed out. That is akin to acoustic treatment for bass, and made a huge difference for me. Beyond that, some absorbers for first reflections and diffraction for the back of the room would be best. I'd also consider purchasing the necessary equipment to take acoustic measurements and doing this. If it's not an option, consider hiring an acoustic expert with this capacity. Sometimes huge differences in sound can be had by taking measurements and adjusting things just a bit.

BradleyP's picture


Full range ribbons are notoriously difficult to drive well, but are glorious when driven with plenty of current. Since my high end journey began over 20 years ago, I've owned planar speakers. Anyway, it's not only the power (wattage) rating that matters, it's the amount of current that an amp cam deliver into low impedance loads. There are 50 or even 30 watt amps out there that get the job done because they deliver current into tough loads. Maggies crave current. One good indicator of a high current design is an amp that doubles wattage when impedance is halved. Look closely at those ratings. While a few tube amps will drive Maggies, it takes a heck of a tube amp ($$$$) to do so. Budget Class D amps in AVRs aren't the ticket, but better Class D amps like, say, Red Dragon or those in the Rogue Sphynx or the high falutin Devialet give lots of Maggie bang for the buck. I suggest you visit your Maggie dealer for a recommendation and show up with a budget number that you communicate to him. Ask for a take-home trial, and then be prepared to award his advice with your business if it's good advice.

You do not have Audiophilia Nervosa. Instead, you have good instincts. Just don't get carried away ;-) Good luck!

K.Reid's picture

Well engineered separates will in most cases result in better sound quality. Many newbies and theater phillies purchase receivers because in most cases they are less expensive and convenient all-in-one component. The downside is receivers have poor quality power supplies especially into 4 ohms (i.e. Low impedance) and not to mention class D amp sound - which, though improving, still may not be to the liking of some. The only switching amp I like is the MBL Corona series. Bottom line, get a multichannel amplifier. I don't know your budget, but I stand by my earlier recommendations of Emotiva and Parasound (and it's Halo series). If you want to step it up, look to Bryston, McIntosh, Krell, Anthem Statement, and Classe. These higher end amps can range $4K-$10K+. Emotiva, Parasound and also ATI are much more budget friendly and are well engineered and sound great. They will give your Maggie's all the current they need to sing.