Archive for Small systems & packages

How Do You find your First High Performance Stereo System & within your Budget?

I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and just state it outright, and it comes right from the title of this blog post, this system that I discovered in our showroom, should be anyone’s first High Performance system that actually steps into High End, if they are looking to meet their budget dead on.

Here’s the system, and then I’ll share my experience and what I’ve found out with it:

The Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II Integrated Amplifier, paired with the PSB Imagine X2T Tower Speakers and with the Bluesound Node 2 for a source, which is a Digital Streamer – Music Server – DAC, that’s the system.  With some starter cables, the system comes in at around a $4500 price point.

So the other day during my tinkering hours at work, I wanted to see just how good the Cronus Magnum II could sound with a few modest priced speakers. We just got the Cronus Magnum II shortly before the Thanksgiving Holiday of 2017.  We have never carried any Rogue Audio electronics before this.  One of our moderate to high end speaker reps strongly recommended we try a Rogue Audio amplifier, so Ed pulled the trigger and brought in the Cronus Magnum II.  

The first thing I did was hook up the Martin Logan ESL’s (the $2500/pr) of speakers with the Cronus Magnum along with the Bluesound Node 2 source.  And, yes, it sounded fantastic.  That’s all I’ll say on that.  Why? Because I wanted to see if the PSB 3-way black tower speakers that were sitting out in the middle room row of speakers we have that I know are 1/2 the price of the Martin Logan ESL’s, I wanted to see if they sound good with the Cronus.  That would keep our budget well under $5000 for a starter system.  When I saw the PSB X2T’s were in The Absolute Sound – Editor’s Choice Awards in their March 2018 issue,  I was really stoked.

My simple and important criteria regarding these High Performance starter systems that I am seeking to put together, is that they sound really good not only in the High & Mid-range frequencies, but also,  that they have an excellent low frequency bass sound.  (This is why I started out with my first blog post & starter system, having a Rel subwoofer mandatory to go along with the 2 bookshelf speakers that came with it.  That blog post is here, regarding creating a system under $3K.)

Cronus-PSB-Tower-n-Node-2-1000wHere’s a photo of the system, with the Cronus Magnum II,  PSB Tower Speakers & the Node 2.  (magazines just for aesthetics 🙂

So how does it sound with the black PSB X2T Tower Speakers?

Fantastic!  Absolutely fantastic.

I played at least 10 songs that I like to use for testing my systems.  I confess, that 1/2 of the songs I use, are used by Ed, and I just adopted them. The first test song, was “Fade to Black” – Dire Straits.  I also listen to the same song on the $300 K system in our “Transporter” theater room.  So is there an obvious difference to me, between a $4500 and a $300,000 system?  Yes.  Yet does the Cronus system sound incredible? Yes.  Do I like hospital food?  Well, I can eat it, but I prefer fine Restaurants. 🙂 Am I a well known online reviewer?, nope.  Totally new to this business & with this high end stuff, as far as setting up and testing systems.  Again, did this Cronus $4500 system sound great?  Yes, it sure did.  And a key point here, is this system actually sounded great without a subwoofer.  It covered the low end quite nicely.  

I listened to a couple of Norah Jones songs, like “Come Away with Me” to check out her vocals.  I listened to The Dark Knight Rises – Main Theme, which is excellent to hear Symphony and all the instruments in Symphony.  The bass, the high volume, low volume in that theme song.  And it sounds incredible on this system.  Here’s the Dark Knight tune on YouTube if you don’t remember it. Like 12 million views on it at YouTube.  I also played a Stevie Ray Vaughn song, and a number of others.  All sounded excellent.  So this system I give a powerful thumbs up for your first Stereo system that is High Performance and actually steps into High end a little at the under $5 K mark.

I also tested the Cronus Magnum II with some Martin Logan ESL 9’s which have the Passive subwoofer.  I will say, mind-blowing with those.   I did test 10 or 12 songs, multiple times for some with the 9’s.  So if you want to know, if later on, it would be wise to upgrade to some higher end speakers to the Cronus, if your room stays the same, and you just want to add some more dynamic texture and range, then by all means this Cronus will deliver just fine for you.

I also tested the Cronus with Sonus Faber Olympica I 2-Way Bookshelf Loudspeakers.  And it sounded pretty darn good with those.

The Cronus Magnum II provides a lot of power at 100 WPC in a small room.  Below is a photo of the back of the Node 2 by Bluesound, of which I connected the 2 left & right audio RCA outputs to the back of the Cronus for a simple hook up.  (The Cronus doesn’t have a DAC, thus the connection method & the sweetness of the Node 2 having Coax out or Audio RCA out.)

Bluesound Node 2 back and connections used for Cronus Magnum II

As a few closing comments,  the room I tested this in, as the photo above shows, is like a spare bedroom or office, with a large carpet placed over solid wood floors.  The room had some practical acoustic treatments, like a couple of stand alone sound absorbers.  The photos in the room have no glass over the frames.

If you want an excellent system under or around 4500 (including starter cables), that you can also build on, then come in to try out this system in our showroom.




About the writer and purpose of my writings below:

As a side note, another thing I am hoping to accomplish for Ed (the boss) is to create 3 or 4 starter packages of systems, for the new Audiophile if you will.  This does go against Ed’s typical philosophy and what he prefers to offer with folks when they come in the showroom for the first time. He likes them to come in, and hear one or two systems in each of our 3 listening rooms, and let them be broadly exposed to many systems and match ups.  But one day I shared with Ed, that perhaps some people, want a starter system all picked out for them. That maybe they have already done the Appliance store search all over, and maybe they’re tired of trying to figure out who or what they can trust will make them happy.  And perhaps they just want to get started with a system that they know has already been tried & proven to sound great and come in at a very specific budget that meets their personal budget.  So this is the reason why I am first experimenting and blogging about 3 or 4 “Starter” systems if you will.

Here is my bio/purpose for me, Art Hansen on our “About” page, and why I am sharing these blog posts with you.  (Scroll down toward the bottom of the page to get to me)

Additional relevant keywords: Audiophile high performance starter system, audiophile beginner system.  Audiophile questions answered here at Audible Images. PSB Speakers Imagine Mini Bookshelf, PSB Imagine X2T Tower Speakers Transitional 3-Way Tower Speaker. Best Buy and Magnolia Home Theater we welcome you to stop there first, and then Audible Images AV.



Audible Images AV is pleased to be serving: Melbourne, Indian Harbour Beach, Lansing Island, Tortoise Island, Florida, Rockledge, Merritt Island, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Port St. John, Satellite Beach, Space Coast, Vero Beach, Orlando, Daytona, Kissimmee, Central Florida, Florida

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Can a simple modest stereo system sound impressive and yet be found at under $3000?

Audiophiles don’t typically start out on a $50,000 system.  First, they have to discover that they are an Audiophile right?

Once they feel the passion from their car stereo that they so proudly installed in high school or college, blowing away their friends systems, they at some point decide, I need something in my apartment or at home.

So I was thinking to myself, what do we have on the floor that I can not only impress myself with, but also someone that walks into our showroom, who desires to get a starter system that can maybe price out at under $3000? 

(Now we know that we can walk into most appliance stores and leave with a stereo for $1000 or 2000 dollars.  But do we really want a system that someone is always asking us to turn it down, because of the distortion coming out of those 100 watts?)  Okay, that said, my quest is now underway.

Okay, so my objective today, was to see what kind of impressive sound I could get out of the Bluesound PowerNode 2.  I wanted something that sounded rich enough in the highs and mid-ranges from our two channel, but also had that powerful low end bass to fill in on the bottom, so today it would be with the Rel T/7i Sub-Woofer.  

To loosely paraphrase what “The Absolute Sound” shared in their September 2016 review of the T7i, when listening to 2 channel stereo, a subwoofer’s role or purpose is to add quantity and quality of those low frequencies that many a two channel system is missing, not to add “boom” per say like in a movie, in order to hear and feel the full breadth and depth of a recording. 

Now granted, even a Newbie realizes that you don’t take an $800 Streaming Media Server/Amplifier and serve it up with some Wilson Audio Yvettes or Martin Logan CLX’s.  That said, I started from our lowest price modest speaker in the house, a pair of PSB Imagine XB Bookshelf Speakers, priced at $499/pr.

A few months back, I did listen to the Powernode 2 and also the NAD C 368 Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier w/ Bluos streaming media card with a variety of speakers.  And to be honest with you, even after I went up to even a beginning high end speaker, I just wasn’t thrilled.  The overall sound was too much of the tweeter & mid-range and just not enough low end, even when I listened to some Sonus Faber, Martin Logans and others, I was just not impressed.  Now keep in mind, this test was with the Powernode 2 and the NAD C 368 that I tested with just a left and right speaker. (there is a reason why I mention that last sentence)

TAS-2017-Editors-Choice-Award-for-Rel-T7i, along with a few other awardsBut todays quest, as I shared above, is with a Sub-woofer, because we just got in the Rel T/7i.  And mind you, this puppy (the T7i) was on the TAS (The Absolute Sound 2017 Editors Choice Awards). 


So after getting the PSB Imagine Bookshelf’s strapped in, and then connecting the Rel T/7i to the back of the Powernode 2 , but NOT IN THE SUB-WOOFER OUT CONNECTION, but instead, I took the 3 copper wires from the sub, and draped the two colored ones around the + on the left and right speaker out, and then the third wire, I just connected to an arbitrary ground connection on one of the speaker out connections.  (Ed told me to hardwire it this way, instead of using a plug into Subout)

It was time to fire it up! And the awesome thing about the Rel T/5-7 or 9 i’s, is that you have like 3 adjustments you can make.  1) You can adjust a high/low level, 2) Crossover adjust between 30 hz and 120 hz and 3) .1/LFE Level to your taste (when setup for surround sound and not 2-Channel stereo setup), so it doesn’t sound like an explosion, when you are just trying to listen to Dire Straits – “Fade to Black” .  

I fired it up, and I thought it sounded pretty excellent.   We had a nice pair of bookshelves at $499/pr, the Powernode 2 for $799 with it’s 60 watt amp, and the Rel T/7i for $999, plus your cables, your coming in maybe under $2500.  It did sound good, and not to just some rookie.

But Ed came in the room, and with his borderline passionate/obsession of sound quality, he first had to adjust the speaker angle as they sat up on the display table. But after a few minutes,  he went to get the Kef LS50’s, and we removed the PSB’s and put the Kef’s on the table.  Within minutes, excessive Ed (kidding) asked me to get the stands for the Kef bookshelf speakers. The speakers just needed to be placed further apart to get that equilateral triangle of sound.  Then we fired it up.

Pretty Mind-blowing.  Sounded fantastic.  We already know the Kef LS50’s sound fantastic, they won the Product of the Year award with “What Hi*Fi”. But now packed with the Rel sub-woofer, it was truly remarkable.  A customer friend & audiophile, named Dave came in asking what was new in our world.  And Ed asked Dave if he’d like to hear the Kef’s and the Powernode 2 system with our new Rel T/7i.  Dave was pretty blown away.

Okay, we did leave the room of $2300-2500 systems (which is still available), but we also stepped into a higher and more amazing level of Audiophilia.  

So with the amazing Kef LS-50’s at the new reduced price by Kef of $1200/pr, plus the Powernode 2 at $799 & the Rel T/7i at $999 plus decent cables, you’re looking at a pretty stellar starter system at around $3200 + or -.

So what is the ultimate take-away here? Adding the REL T7i isn’t intended to add kaboom (as you might want when watching movies), the REL Sub-Bass speaker gives you the full range of what you were missing in the low end

When you listen to our main 2 channel system in “The Transporter” room, an over $300,000 system, it’s pretty fun to see Ed still get excited about a modest priced high performance starter system.  I know I was excited and pumped!

Additional relevant keywords: audiophile beginner system.  PSB Imagine XB Bookshelf Speakers, Audiophile questions answered here at Audible Images. PSB Speakers Imagine Mini Bookshelf, PSB Imagine X2T Tower Speakers Transitional 3-Way Tower Speaker. Best Buy and Magnolia Home Theater we welcome you to stop there first, and then Audible Images AV.



Audible Images AV is pleased to be serving: Melbourne, Indian Harbour Beach, Lansing Island, Tortoise Island, Florida, Rockledge, Merritt Island, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Port St. John, Satellite Beach, Space Coast, Vero Beach, Orlando, Daytona, Kissimmee, Central Florida, Florida

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