Q: I have Polk Audio TSi400 tower speakers and a Sony STR-DH190 receiver. When I turn up the volume, the receiver shuts down with a "protect" message. My understanding is that this is to protect against distortion that could damage the speakers and receiver. Is this true? I don't play my music loudly, so I am surprised that this distortion threshold is being reached. It is really annoying.
Also, in the 1980s I had EPI 100 speakers, which had great bass and good treble. I find that my current speakers have great treble, but the bass is lacking. I get the impression that today's speakers generally lack bass compared with 1970s-1980s speakers. Do you agree, and what are some affordable speakers today that deliver the bass sound of my old EPI 100s?
A: When an amplifier distorts from being overdriven, it is called "clipping," and it is definitely what you are experiencing. Your Sony receiver might have a "100 watt" advertised amplifier rating, but, in reality, it is very weak.
Sony rates the 100 watts at 1 kHz and 1% distortion. Measuring at a single frequency at such a high distortion level leads to a much higher power rating than the receiver can deliver in real-world use. In comparison, the $249 Onkyo TX-8220 is rated at 20-20khz and .08% distortion. Your speakers should be easy for any receiver to drive, and if your Sony cannot do so, you should replace it.
As for comparing your vintage EPI 100 speakers with modern tower speakers, a big, boxy speaker with a large woofer (like the EPI 100) tends to have a more solid, fuller sound than a tall, narrow speaker with several smaller woofers. (Granted, this is a generalization.)
The slender cabinet of modern tower speakers means less reflection off the speaker's front surfaces (called diffraction) for more open sound and better stereo imaging. Narrow towers also take up less space, and this makes them more acceptable for people who don't like electronic gear dominating a room's decor.
I think a better receiver/amplifier will improve the bass of your current speakers, but probably not by enough to make you feel like you are listening to your old EPIs. Your best option is Wharfedale Linton Heritage speakers (wharfedaleusa.com), which will provide the satisfyingly solid bass fullness of a vintage box speaker, combined with modern sound quality and fidelity. They also feature furniture-grade wood cabinets and matching stands that double as record racks.
The Wharfedale Linton Heritage speakers with stands are $1,799. That's pricey, but they represent a lifetime investment that will keep you happy for years.
You also could try to find another pair of EPI 100s. Human Speakers (humanspeakers.com) offers EPI 100 rebuild kits with prices starting at $325 a pair for full kits, although individual parts are available. The company also sells a speaker called the Model 81 ($634 a pair) that was inspired by the EPI 100. I have not heard them, but they look promising.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.