New Speakers or New Amplifier to Increase Sound Stage

I’m looking to make an improvement over my current system but can’t quite decide on the best route being new speakers or a new amplifier.

Currently I use a pair of Jeff Bagby designed Piccolos. And as I have posted other places on this forum, I am very happy with sound quality from them. The dynamic range, low distortion, and particularly the high-end clarity, are outstanding and very satisfying.

So, what I’m looking for now is just to expand the sound stage. I listen to classical music and opera and although it sounds very good the music is contained to a rather limited width. Essentially all of the sound appears to be between the speakers. There is some depth to the sound stage, but limited width. The image is rather small and compressed.

To make matters somewhat more difficult I am listening in a fairly small room. It is only 10.5’ wide by 11’ deep and 8’ high. Plus, there is very thick carpet covering the entire floor. I sit about 2’ from the rear wall and the speakers are about 6’ apart and 2’ from the front wall.

I understand that the small room creates limitations on the sound field that can be achieved. Nevertheless, I would like to optimize things as much as possible in order to increase the size and depth of the sound stage

So finally, to the question. Am I better off building a different speaker design or is the sound stage not going to change much even if I do? In other words, is the small room and speaker placement going to be the dominant factor that determines the sound stage.

Or is it possible that a different amplifier can increase the sound stage for me without having to build new speakers. Right now, I am using a Denon AVR, which admittedly is not a high-end audio component. And I am willing to invest in a good stereo amp designed specifically for music if that will really make a difference in the width and depth of the sound stage.

New speakers or new amplifier. Maybe both are needed, but what should the first move be?
 
Dear classicanfan,

I think you could try a few things to enlarge the sound stage before changing the speakers or amplifiers.

1) Acoustic panels against primary reflections (only) to allow higher volume setting (more direct energy) within the room, to give bigger and clearer sounds (mostly). Since it's mostly classical music, some weak reflections (esp. early) need to be maintained. The carpet on the floor may have to stay there.

Something like this (regarding the results):

2) Build a baffle wall or increase the baffle sizes of the speakers (add wings) while spreading them apart. You may also try getting them into the corners, if desired.

Something like this: http://www.quarter-wave.com/Project10/OB_Wings_Out.jpg

Note that any investments in the above areas would never be wasted, even if you eventually decide to upgrade speakers or amplifiers.
 
Carver C-9 Sonic Hologram Generator. You can get one for <$200 on ebay. Maybe worth a try in your situation, before expending 5X as much on a new amplifier.
I looked up some reviews on this and don't think it is what I want. Multiple comments about it adding hiss to the sound. Plus, the need for critical speaker positioning. Am looking for something more basic as a solution. But thanks anyhow for the suggestion.
 
Dear classicanfan,

I think you could try a few things to enlarge the sound stage before changing the speakers or amplifiers.

1) Acoustic panels against primary reflections (only) to allow higher volume setting (more direct energy) within the room, to give bigger and clearer sounds (mostly). Since it's mostly classical music, some weak reflections (esp. early) need to be maintained. The carpet on the floor may have to stay there.

Something like this (regarding the results):

2) Build a baffle wall or increase the baffle sizes of the speakers (add wings) while spreading them apart. You may also try getting them into the corners, if desired.

Something like this: http://www.quarter-wave.com/Project10/OB_Wings_Out.jpg

Note that any investments in the above areas would never be wasted, even if you eventually decide to upgrade speakers or amplifiers.
Thanks, but all of that is much more complicated than I want to deal with. Plus, the room is very small and adding panels or making the baffle sizes a lot larger are not things I want to do. Just want to keep it simple with either new speakers or a new amplifier. Question is which of those is more likely to provide an increase in the sound stage.
 
I think the room is not helpful at all and agree with above, except I would add: toss the Denon AVR and get even a modest, well regarded two channel amplifier like an old '70s Luxman (must be in good working order and probably restored), then move the loudspeakers a bit further apart if you can. It will help to knock down sidewall reflections with acoustic panels. The place to put them is where you would see reflections of your speakers from your listening position if the walls were mirrors.
 
https://www.linkwitzlab.com/Store/LXmini+2.htm
1643442967952.png
 
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I think the room is not helpful at all and agree with above, except I would add: toss the Denon AVR and get even a modest, well regarded two channel amplifier like an old '70s Luxman (must be in good working order and probably restored), then move the loudspeakers a bit further apart if you can. It will help to knock down sidewall reflections with acoustic panels. The place to put them is where you would see reflections of your speakers from your listening position if the walls were mirrors.
And so that is the question. Is replacing the Denon AVR with a quality stereo amplifier likely to give me an appreciable improvement in the sound stage? Or should I invest my time and money on new speakers instead.

To put it another way does the amplifier really have that big of effect on the sound stage itself. I'm having a little hard time understanding why it would.
 
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There is no magic pill that fixes it. Buy speakers, rooms, amps, acoustician, all, and you still have to optimize the speaker positioning. I think amplifier is the last one to fix it. Any of them could ruin it I think, wrong speakers for the room for example, or broken amplifier. If you want regular speakers, but the room is no fit for them, then you'll never get improvement.

Because mind thinks change sounds better, just change stuff around and the sound gets better. Speaker positioning is the cheapest change you can make, new room the most expensive. Almost all changes make you poorer and the sound gets different but not necessarily better.

Think it backwards from the room: you have to get speakers that fit the room, position them so that the image happens, use acoustic treatment to further refine it, perhaps buy the amp to even further refine it. If the room is too small just get closer to the speakers.

Try get a mind set out from purchasing things to making things happen, figure out hows and whys. Hope it helps.
 
I guess I should add to this discussion that I am not willing to give up anything in overall sound quality whatsoever just to get a bigger sound stage. So, any speakers that don't equal or exceed the Piccolos, which I consider to be outstanding in overall sound quality, aren't candidates regardless of their sound stage performance. That's why changing the amplifier is appealing. I already know what to expect from the speakers.

But can a different amp really make that much of a difference in the sound stage? And if so, the next question is which one? My budget for a new amp could be up to about $1,500, although under $1,000 would be preferable.
 
Without knowing which model Denon AVR you have, in general the lower range Denon (and other) AVRs digitise the incoming signals with a pretty low fidelity A-D, then precess everything digitally before a fairly low fidelity D-A and very basic quality amplification (there's a awful lot of stuff in the box for not much money). Whether that screws the image width I can't say from firsthand experience, but that certainly does make natural acoustic sources like symphony orchestra and opera vocals sounds awful enough to drive me out of the room. I don't know the Piccolos other than by reputation, and I seriously doubt they are the problem. Having said that, there are speakers that give seemingly ethereal imaging, because they are screwing up something else...
 
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Perhaps a tube amplifier and / or dipole speakers? These are things you'd need to try, versus counting on a definitive "a tube amp will make your SS wider" statement from someone. Do you have local "audio friends" that would bring something over for you to listen to perhaps, that coule illustrate a big factor switch like tube or class A amplification? Or a shop that would do the same?

Do you have any FR drivers kicking about? Perhaps mount them up on a couple stands - even with no baffle at all - to see if a taste of dipole radiation does anything for you in the direction you want to go. Some here call it an illusion, but for me, it's one I happen to like regarding SS. Something about that out of phase backward radiation.

I have bigger listening spaces than what you described; unsure if there's a physical limit below which a dipole cant work, or do its thing as it would within a larger container.
 
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There is no magic pill that fixes it. Buy speakers, rooms, amps, acoustician, all, and you still have to optimize the speaker positioning. I think amplifier is the last one to fix it. Any of them could ruin it I think, wrong speakers for the room for example, or broken amplifier. If you want regular speakers, but the room is no fit for them, then you'll never get improvement.

Because mind thinks change sounds better, just change stuff around and the sound gets better. Speaker positioning is the cheapest change you can make, new room the most expensive. Almost all changes make you poorer and the sound gets different but not necessarily better.

Think it backwards from the room: you have to get speakers that fit the room, position them so that the image happens, use acoustic treatment to further refine it, perhaps buy the amp to even further refine it. If the room is too small just get closer to the speakers.

Try get a mind set out from purchasing things to making things happen, figure out hows and whys. Hope it helps.
This is all well and good but doesn't address the question I raised. I'm very happy with my current speakers, with the room placement, seating position, etc. It's all fine and doesn't need to be redone. The sound is great.

The only change I want to make is to increase the width and depth, particularly the width, of the sound stage. That's it. Everything else is excellent and doesn't need to be changed.
 

jaddie

Member
2011-04-01 12:06 am
And so that is the question. Is replacing the Denon AVR with a quality stereo amplifier likely to give me an appreciable improvement in the sound stage?
Absolutely not. It will do nothing, though someone might talk themselves into thinking otherwise. The reality is, no.
Or should I invest my time and money on new speakers instead.
I would suggest not that either.
To put it another way does the amplifier really have that big of effect on the sound stage itself. I'm having a little hard time understanding why it would.
As long as the amplifier can deliver enough power to the speakers, and it can drive the speaker load presented, there's really nothing to improve. Certainly nothing that will affect soundstage width.

Your entire problem is acoustic. There is no way around this other than to put some kind of modest treatment on the walls that get it with off-axis sound from your speakers and reflect it to your listening position. The reality of two-channel stereo is that both ears will hear both speakers, which creates problems in sound stage, frequency response, and other things. What makes matters much worse is when sound from your speakers also arrives at your ears from reflections during the time window that human hearing is busy trying to work on localization, or at least, the fake localization in a stereo recording. The somewhat late reflection confuses localization, and any phantom image. In two-speaker stereo, it's all about phantom images, the perception of the location of sounds that are not really there. Just eliminating reflections will make your speakers image wider, and if you relax, close your eyes, and let your hearing be fooled, you can actually perceive sound sources from outside the speakers. But not with reflections from the walls.

When you looked at the Carver C9 information, you noticed that to work well, it must have your speakers away from walls, and your listening position exactly on a line perpendicular to a line between them, dead center. In that position and configuration, any speakers will image well. What the C9 did was add a cancellation signal that reduced the amount of sound your ear would hear form the opposite speaker. The resulting image would be very immersive, and dimensional, and way outside of the speakers, even vertical imaging worked. Now, if you're not up for acoustic crosstalk cancellation, you're left with the acoustics of your room.

Changing your speakers, unless you go to something radical like constant directivity horns, is very unlikely to improve anything. And, you actually like the speakers you have. So, make them work. Give them a room to work in. Yes, treatment is invasive, but there's a way to do the minimum and get the maximum.

While sitting in your LP, dead center between speakers and away from them at the correct distance, have an assistant hold a mirror against any wall, and move it around until you, from your listening position, can see a speaker. It doesn't matter what part of the speaker. If you can see it, not the mirror location and place some absorption there. Keep that up until you've found the source of the biggest reflections. Big walls reflect more. Check the wall behind the speakers too, same idea. Put absorption where the mirror shows you a reflection of the speaker. It will take the least amount of absorption, and it will go where it has the maximum effect. I promise you, you'll get your soundstage working better if you do this.
 

Ugg10

Member
2017-11-18 9:59 am
UK
My first port of call would be to ditch the AVR, I have a mid range Denon AVR (3808 c.£1500 new) and it is not very good for music at all compared to a £200 Rotel stereo amp. So I would first pick up a good second hand Stereo amp as I think will give you a fairly big jump in performance. If you want a neutral sound then the Rotel RA1062 is worth searching out and for a warmer sound the Marantz PM7200 (high can run in class A), these should be available second hand for $3-400. Thisi s a relatively cheap,way to find out if the stereo amp will provide a difference and these models should not loose much if you have to resell.
 
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With that budget you can buy a decent new amplifier, and have change.
Any suggestions as to which amplifier to get. I've watched videos on YouTube and most of them talk about how the amp can expand the sound stage, but I'm not sure that I really trust that information. It all sounds just a little too good to be true. That's why I started this. To see if others think the amp can make that much of a difference. And if so, perhaps some specific suggestions on which amp really lives up to claims.
 

Ugg10

Member
2017-11-18 9:59 am
UK
From my experience it is the preamp part of any amplifier that makes the biggest difference to the sound character. As stated above, this is where the AVR falls down in converting the source signal to digital, processing it and the converting it back to analogue before amplifying it plus the cost of all of the parts in an AVR is a compromise. So long as the power amp circuit has a damping factor of 150 or above it should be capable of starting and stopping the speaker cones without too much over run as well, hence the “all amplifier should be a straight wire with gain” but I feel this only applies to the power amp circuits.

Running different preamps into a pair of active speakers I heard significant differences in sound character (ratio of various different frequency bands) and also stereo image, my favourite was a passive attenuator followed by a traditional stereo preamp and lastly an AVR, not tried a valve preamp but have a feeling a valve preamp plus one of the new Class D power amps (Hypex or Purifi) may be a good combination. Just a few thoughts from experience, nothing scientific and your room/ears will be different.
 
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