Sound Advice: Spend more on speakers than amplifier

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2010 - 3:06 PM

Speakers should be the first consideration.

Q I am thinking of buying Ohm Walsh 2000 or Walsh 3000 speakers. Should I go with the Walsh 3000 and skimp on the electronics by pairing them with an NAD 375BEE integrated amplifier, or should I go with the 2000s and get the NAD M3 amplifier, which has much better specifications, greater power and remote control features?

A This is easy. Get the better speakers and the less expensive electronics, especially since you are getting a top-quality amplifier such as NAD.

Sonic differences between amplifiers are small compared with the difference in sound between speakers, even when comparing models within one manufacturer's model line.

Whether building a sound system for surround or stereo, the speakers are always the first consideration. They convert electrical energy into sonic energy, which is far more difficult than creating or modifying an electrical signal. You will hit diminishing returns on amplifiers far sooner than you will on speakers.

For the best results, allocate as much of your budget as you can toward the speakers, while matching them with an amplifier that will power them easily while suiting your needs and tastes.

For example, if I had $1,000 to spend on stereo speakers and an amplifier, I would allocate $700 for the speakers and $300 for the amplifier. If I were spending $2,000, I would look to spend $1,500 on speakers and $500 on the amplifier. Surround-sound systems change the equation somewhat, but in short, the speakers are the top priority. Get the best that you can for your budget.

But there are some exceptions.

For example, I received an e-mail from a reader who had a huge digital music collection and an interest in owning a tube amplifier, for the warm sound and the pride of owning something special. He ended up with a $799 Neuhaus Laboratories T-2 tube amplifier with USB connection and a pair of $499 Arx A3 tower speakers. This setup made sense because he was able to achieve the goal of owning a tube amplifier, notably one that is designed to bring out the best in his large collection of digital music files and that pairs well with the Arx A3 speakers. They mate well with tube amplification and sound much better than their price would suggest. In that instance, spending more on the amplifier made sense.

For what it's worth, I drive all of my Ohm Walsh speakers with NAD amplifiers. One of the pairings is a top-of-the-line pair of Walsh 5000s connected to an NAD 2200PE amplifier that is more than 20 years old. In the audiophile pecking order, my old amplifier corresponds much closer to the 375BEE than the M3, so I am certain you will be happy with the Walsh 3000/375BEE combination.

Submit questions and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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