New to high end audio

Hello all, I’m starting to dip my toe in high(er) end audio. I’ve been watching some of Paul’s videos and lurking, seems like you all are a great community.

In the past I’ve listened to music on cheap headphones or through my iPads speaker. As I mostly listen to classical music, ive always wanted to be able to have a proper system, but apartment living always dissuaded me. I recently got a house and just got a Denon x1500h (for possible future surround system, the wireless connectivity) paired with Elac debut 6.2. I figured I’d go for a basic setup to see what’s possible. It sounds lovely and full, but it seems like there’s no detail. Comparing it to my iPads speaker in orchestral music for example I can hear the shape and texture of every instrument (tinny but precise) but on the ELACs everything seems blurry and hard to pick out any particular instrument. I tried my neighbors Klipsch too, and while much clearer, in the low end (cello/dbass) it’s still not as detailed as an iPad!

I’ve messed with a bunch of things: Toe in, minimizing reflections by hanging up towels/rugs, near field, cable gauge, EQ…not much help

I’m just wondering what y’alls thoughts are. As a classical musician myself, detail is extremely important and the ability to hear what every instrument is doing, unless there’s something wrong with the set up it seems like its an expensive downgrade. I appreciate any input and thanks!

Welcome, @dlr011, and welcome to the sad and expensive world of high end audio! :smile::rofl::grin: I will try not to jump into “buy this or that” type comments, but I’d rather find out a bit more about some of what you touched on.

As a classical musician, what do you want your music to sound like? Like what you hear when you are in the ensemble and surrounded by your fellow musicians (each of the tiniest scrapes and inflections from your own and surrounding instruments)? Like what a person might hear from a conductor’s podium? From audience orchestra center? The balconies? To some degree this may define some of the things you would search for in a system. As a regular orchestra and small ensemble goer, I know that what I hear from my seat will never sound like what even the conductor would hear, let alone one of the musicians. The other side of this is, of course, being able to pull off the recording everything that is there, but the rest of the system will ultimately shape how that information is presented to you.

So while that doesn’t explain what you’re hearing, it may help to define your expectations. Then we can look to what the best way may be to satisfy those expectations. Some folks find that dynamic driver speakers cannot provide the level of detail they are looking for. In cases like this a planar speaker of some type can offer what is desired. I’m not familiar with that Denon, but I recall that Denon electronics of years past were not the most incisive, tending toward roundness and fullness over speed, transients, and air.


What kind of source are you using? To get good detail sound from your stereo, the source is very important. If you are using cd, get a good cd player or transport and the dac can make your system sound like trash with almost no detail to sounding pretty live. I would be looking at lease like the PS Audio stellar stuff.
If you are into playing files, play uncompress hi rez 24 bit or dsd files. I prefer playing SACDs to files since I find that sounds the most detail and realistic in my system. I am using the PS Audio DMP and DS sr. and that can almost put the instruments playing live in my room.

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Maybe high-end is a term that’s leading in a wrong direction. It seems like you are searching for great sound, which is an audiophile journey, which can be achieved with almost any budget.

The two posts above state some fundamentals: “define a goal”, and “source matters” (media and player).

While we don’t know your source yet, the amp might be an issue. This multichannel Denon was not designed and build for audiophiles. I hate to say this, but regardless of source, speakers, room and setup, I doubt that it will be able to deliver musical joy.

This is not about money. Your speakers for example, while not expensive, can sound fantastic in the right system with a good setup.

So, it would be great to understand what you want to achieve and what you are willing to spend to get there. Please also share your media source, player (hardware, software, whatever it is) and setup - ideally with some pictures of the room and the system. When the picture is more complete lots of folks here are able to give hints, how to achieve your goal.

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Welcome to the rabbit hole!
While you’re going thru the torment/joy of designing a system, may I suggest that your first purchase be an Audioquest Dragonfly; a dac to go between your computer or ipad and your headphones. Around a hundred bucks very well spent.

Thank you all for your input, it looks like more info is better!

It looks like sources and mode of transportation seem to be of note. I’m using a variety of files from my own library (mostly mp3s…yeah I know) or Spotify, YouTube or radio. My Denon does rca, optical, airplay, usb and HEOS…I’ve tried all of them to little avail. The HEOS thing just sends the actual music file to be decoded by the internal DAC, so I’m assuming that part isn’t much of an issue unless getting an external DAC is super night and day.

My deal with detail is when doing a/b comparison between the iPads speakers and the Denon. I can play the same exact file and I’ll hear a subdued bass line, chair squeak, inner voice etc on the iPad but not on the new system. Or if I can hear it, I can’t tell what notes are being played, even if I stick my ear right next to the speaker.

Maybe my view of music is odd, when learning music my first task is to faithfully reproduce everything in the score and then add my own interpretation. But anyone listening to me play ‘should’ be able to write down every note, articulation and dynamic they hear and have it match the original score. I guess that was the expectation from speakers…and on the recordings I’ve listened to on the iPad I could mostly do that, can’t do that on the new system which is perhaps why I’m disappointed…and, unless I’m super wrong about something, why I don’t think the source is the problem (please correct me though:)

As of right now I think things like soundstage or stereo imaging are less important till I can get this nailed down. Like tony22 mentioned, maybe it’s the Denon, it’s just not geared towards milking 2 speakers? Or if it’s the speakers, maybe thyre just too big? I was thinking that the iPad speakers can’t be more than a few millimeters, so there’s so little mass to move it can be super detailed whereas a big 6.5 inch cone on the Elacs or Klipsch is just too heavy to vibrate accurately?

You all have been super helpful and given me a lot to ponder…thank you! I’ll stick a pano of my room from the listening position. Speakers are 9 feet away (I’ve tried near field too, was a bit more detailed), hardwood floors with a big ol rug, the room is not as lively as you’d expect. Dimensions are 25x13x10 with nodes at 43 and 182hz

This is perhaps some unorthodox advice. As a classical musician (and presumably a concert-goer) I’m assuming that you already have an ear for the acoustic environment in which the performance takes place and the effects that can have on enhancing or obscuring detail. It’s hard to say, but from your description of the difference between iPad and in-room playback, it sounds like a good bit of your issue is room acoustics.

Before I spent too much more on equipment, I’d start with this:
available on Amazon for around $25.

And then (if you run a laptop) this share-ware software, which you can download for free . . .

. . . but you’ll need a calibrated USB mic to use with it. Here’s a decent one…

…which can be had here for $75 (or $45 for the one that’s been re-stocked and is on clearance):

So now you’re in for only $70 - $100 and on your way to becoming educated on the acoustics of small spaces - like the ones we put our gear in - and how to get ANY system to sound it’s best.

Then start playing. OK, yeah, it’s geeky - I get that - but it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. The math involved is basic for the fundamentals, and the acoustic principals that will make or break a system don’t require expensive components to figure out, but the room treatments aren’t free (though there are resources on line showing how to build your own).

I’ve been chasing better sound for going on 50 years and, believe me, it all starts and ends with the room. You are far better off with modest gear in a great room than expensive gear in a so-so acoustic environment. Rolling gear through a crappy room to improve the sound is an expensive way to go, and it ultimately is not satisfying, either.

You can also window shop for gear free at where you can download buyer guides as PDF files without needing a subscription.

The dearth of audio dealers is unfortunate because, “back in the day,” there were 3 or 4 in every city of any size that you could frequent.

If you have an audio club near you that you can join, do it! The only way to figure out what floats your boat is to listen to as much stuff (in as many rooms) as possible.

If you can swing it, a visit to one of the regional shows like Axpona (Chicago), or the upcoming RMAF (Denver) provides the opportunity to see all kinds of toys at all price points and listen to them in crowded and questionable acoustic environments. Still, you get to kick the tires and drool, and some exhibitors manage to hit it out of the park, sound-wise.

There are also other “civil” forums out there. The ones on come to mind.


While room dynamics plays a part, I’ve heard fantastic equipment in bad space that sounded amazing. The lack of dynamics you’re hearing could be a result of a setting or settings on the Denon HT amp. You may want to make sure it’s optimized for a two-channel stereo setup and not the surround setup you hope to do one day-- the owner’s manual will explain how. This happened to a friend of mine who couldn’t get good sound from some B&W floor standers and a HT amp. Another possiblity, though unlikely, is your Denon is a poor match for the Elac. I’m not as familiar with Elac, but B&W along with Magnepan and some others have well documented issues with amp pairings. If you have a friend or local shop that will let you try an amp or your speakers on their amp, then you’ll know for sure. Good luck, and welcome to this forum!

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Hi, no offense to you or Denon, but I do not think a $600 HTR is capable of doing justice to your speakers, room or music. If you want a single box integrated amp with a built-in DAC, you could probably do a lot worse than a fully loaded Schiit Ragnarock 2 with multibit DAC (you would also get a great built-in headphone amp). See:



How about a Sprout… and 30 days to try it out?

Tony22, What an excellent first response!

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Thank you kindly! :slightly_smiling_face:

There’s got to be something else going on somewhere in the system. Even the cheapest of HT receivers from the big names are NOT going to make a pair of entry level Elac or Klipsch speakers sound worse than the built-in speakers in an iPad. That’s just ridiculous.

Yes, there’s plenty of gear that will make those speakers sound much better, but still. There’s absolutely no possible way in the world that the Denon is making those speakers sound worse than iPad speakers the size of fleas.

For all we know, the OP could have those speakers wired into the surround outputs or the Atmos outputs (if it has that option), and not the actual FRONT MAIN outputs.

Minor rant over…


I’m in the same boat as @Chops. I have a Denon x4400 and stock Oppo 203 that plays very nicely through a set of Monitor Bronze or Tekton Electrons. Not as nice as my PS Audio DSJr, BHK preamp, M700’s but way way better than any computer or iPad speakers. Something must be wrong in the setup.


Yes, same here, in my living room I have a EUR 800 Yamaha HT, set up for front left and right full sized speakers, bi amped, a internal function, I expect the Denon also has. I never utilize the surround or stereo DSP functions, except for watching movies. All DSP functions are disabled, (pure direct button) for music. Speakers are EUR 2200/pair Canton Vento floor stands.

While I also feel that the HT Receiver does not unleash the full potential of the Cantons, the biggest problem was the placement of the speakers.

I went to a HIGH END shop to listen to EUR 7500/pair transmission line speakers on a really nice stereo amplifier of the same brand for synergy purpose. It sounded amazing! Till I asked the dealer to put those fantastic speakers as close to the wall as my real estate in my living room allows. My wife’s reaction was, this sounds as held back as with the speakers in the living room, so why spend So much money on a new set.

I thought exactly the same thing, drove home pulled my Canton speakers just 4 to 5” farther from the wall and?! Yes, I just got myself a couple of thousand worth more of sound for which I had to give up a tiny bit of real estate.

So I recommend that you count your blessings with the Elac’s and DENON AVR, read the Manual to set the unit up for full sized stereo speakers, if possible bi amping to allow more power to your speakers. It is off course true that those HTR power amp stages might be very different from expensive stereo kits. But correct settings in your DENON HTR and positioning of speakers should get you a very good sound out of your beautiful ELAC’s.

What you should realize when starting high end stereo like advertised here is:

The mighty expensive stereo kits indeed do offer a unprecedented sound quality. If listening to music is your only hobby or family activity, that is very enjoyable, but it comes with a price far beyond the finances you invest.

I bought a Stellar Gain Cell DAC for my home office as pure stereo DAC and pre amplifier. Sources are an old CD player and my iMac with iTunes and Bit Perfect. It works very fine, it blew new life into my old Yamaha MSP 5 monitors in my home office. But the more I am investigating its suitability for our family living room I am very much contemplating if the sound improvement justifies it’s many shortcomings and the extensive costs to compensate for them.

These expensive stereo kits do not offer a lot of features your DENON HTR does:

  • HDMI inputs, so you can not enjoy probably more then 50% of your sources through those entry level, yet beautiful sounding Elac’s. Think TV, TV set top box, Apple TV, BluRay disc player, game consoles, I.e. the sources that are mostly used by your family, why deprive them from the good sound, when going without HTR as many will claim is better.
  • the EUR 1800 (official list price EUR 2055) Stellar Gain Cell DAC, offers just 1 optical input. And even if it would offer more, the optical outputs of most sources are far inferior from a sound quality point of view than their HDMI interfaces
  • the Stellar Gain Cell DAC like many stereo pre amplifiers offer HT bypass, to which you could plug in the stereo pre-out of (expensive models only) HT receivers. But I had to find out that this function comes with serious flaws. When you set it up as it should be switching to the HT channel causes distorted sound, that in some cases result in loud thumps on the speakers, that potentially scare people in the room and certainly are not healthy for your speakers nor your ears
  • a number of high end companies, like PS Audio currently don’t offer matching stereo audio sources to their amplifiers and DAC’s anymore: no TurnTables, no CD or SACD players. From DENON you can buy all of that, (even including very good Phono cartridges). From a sound, price level and optical point of view, very synergetic, with your DENON HTR offering full control, without the need for all kind of different or additional equipment
  • if you start talking about integration of home cinema and stereo set up, most high end industry starts reacting allergic for shady reasons. The most pathetic and arrogant advise I heard from high end manufacturers was to buy a completely separate HT set, preferably separate room of course. Nice if you make enough money for such a big home and a double investment in A/V equipment. Yet, if you look at their customers system pictures most of them have a TV or screen between the main or stereo speakers. This is completely neglected by the high end manufacturers. The shady reason for omitting interfaces to A/V equipment would be “sound quality”. But if you start digging deeper into the subject, as it is hard to comprehend that today’s technology would not be able to overcome that, the real reason becomes apparent: Silly license fees and ever changing formats that are involved in the A/V industry, stereo manufacturers do not want to get involved in.

So if you are looking for the ultimate sound quality, there is much that you can do, and spend your or your family’s fortune into new very expensive gear and please your ears. Very nice hobby if you are alone at home or have a spouse and/or children who prefer to listen to music way more than watch movies or play games.

If you prefer a living room for all sorts of family members or multiple of your own interests though, that DENON HTR and ELAC combo you have will offer you and your family way more fun, and if you grind through the manual and play with the position of the speakers you can achieve improvements in sound quality, that would cost you otherwise much money.

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If you want detail and realism for classical music, you need electrostatic speakers, ideally Quad but perhaps Martin Logan in the USA. Otherwise Mangepan planar speakers, roughly the same sort of idea. Basic electronics will do and they need relatively little power. They are big and upset my wife, so sold my pair recently (Quad ESL63) to an audiophile classical musician for his son who is an aspiring conductor and needs to hear the instruments properly. It is also a much cheaper option than loads of audiophile stuff.

I’m wowed by all the thoughtful and insightful comments (why cant the rest of the internet be like this:)!
I’ll try to conglomerate everything y’all’ve told me here, get into more detail and let you know what I’ve been futzing with the last few days

It looks like everything is tied into a couple of categories:
-Speaker position/room acoustics
-Speaker/amp quality

A whole bunch…for youtube, netflix etc I use airplay (when it works, thanks apple), for my own library I use the HEOS (just sends the file straight to the DAC over network), and everything else is Spotify (though I might try a tidal or Qobuz). In the early 2000s I ripped every CD I had and most of the originals have either been lost or scratched to hell in the ravages of time. I know these are not the best, and I tried that test of WAV vs 320 vs 128 on NPR and didn’t do so great so I’m not sure if my ears are trained to discriminate that aspect of sound yet. Though to be honest, since I know that the audio information is contained in my local files are in there from listening on iPad I’m not sure if moving to super high bitrates will make much of a difference.

One would expect that the DAC inside my reciever is heads to shoulder better than the one in an ipad. I’m not sure if mine is. I tried some A/B comparisons using the same track (beethoven 9 mvnt 2) on HEOS and RCA (directly into ipads headphone jack, and yes thats how old the ipad is, its an apple product w/ headphone jack:) and didn’t notice too much of a difference, though it was definitely clearer from HEOS. Looking it up online its an AK4458VN chip, though the internet doesn’t have much to say about it. I’m more than willing to give a separate DAC a try, I hear that the Shiit Modi is spectacular.

Speaker Position/room acoustics:
Yeah…, hardwood floors, minimalist furniture, lots of glass…not a great recipe. Thinking about popping down to Home Depot and a fabric store to make some panels out of rock wool or old towels. Its a project I’ve been wanting to do anyways to help tame my baby grand piano. HThaller, your recommendation on that book looks really cool. That’s part of the reason I’m doing this too is to further my knowledge of sound. I’ve brought the speakers forward from the wall from about 1 foot to 2.5 and my listening chair about 6 inches and have noted a marked improvement in clarity, probably not least of which is the greater proportion of direct sound and no hardwood at all to reflect off of now that its closer to the rug.

Speaker/Amp quality:
I knew the Denon probably wasnt going to be the greatest, I’ll get into why/how later. But knowing that I’d probably at somepoint throw it downstairs to get a surround system going later, I just wasn’t expecting to need to replace it so soon:) Maybe this is a case of half-assing something causing more headaches than doing it once properly. I’ve been looking at the sprout and ragnarok options mentioned. Those electostats a few of you have mentioned look really interesting, I might take a trip to the Magnepan store next time I’m in minneapolis. However if I do keep the denon (for now) it seems like they are quite difficult to drive; the Denon says 80 watts at 8 ohms (presumeably 160 at 4 ohms if it were a perfect amp).
I’ve also set up the Denon correctly and fidgeted with just about everything, everything is phased correctly, all the cables in the correct terminal etc. I did also mess with bi-amping the neighbors klipsches. The elacs only have one pair of binding posts, so no bi-amping alas, it was cool while it lasted. Unless… I stuff two wires into a single banana plug to bi-amp it…that seems like it either wouldn’t do anything or might make it worse…thoughts?

That room is my main practicing, teaching, reading and relaxing room… So I guess the primary purpose is to sit back at the end of the day and let some music wash over me. But unfortunately for me all listening is critical listening (hence my problem). I also wanted it to be used for some passive background stuff (a consideration for electrostats, looks like the listening position is extremely narrow) and to upgrade the sound whenever I watch youtube or netflix (which is almost always on ipad). I also wanted to be able to control the system without having to get up everytime I change track, source or volume (which could be a huge problem with the sprout). Something I’ve gotten to love about the denon is the ability to start up the radio from my phone when I wake up…its sublime. Another surprising benefit that I’ve come to adore is the dynamic range compression it can do (meant as a late night mode). One of the problems I’ve found with classical (and movies) on even a decent system like mine is that it goes from basically inaudible to painfully loud, on ipad or car stereo or headphones I’m guessing that theres some of that built in or its a property of crappy speakers or both. Although it does take away from the dynamics that everyone seems to value, I find it is way more like a live classical concert (I took my db meter app to the last symphony concert, the range was about 60-90 db on average. My system with the same music was 40-85. Probably not terribly accurate…but for reference). Is there any way to do DRC on a non-AVR? Internet searches haven’t turned up much of use.

That also brings me to another goal. I’ve noticed that it seems that the audiophile goal is to have your system sound as close to a live performance as possible. I don’t think thats what I want. Take my cities orchestra… its really good and in a very good hall and I’ve sat just about everywhere in the audience. A lot of nuances in the score are lost quite often, say the horns get over rambunctious and blow over a viola line or the rest of the orchestra forgot that the harpist exists. Take the end of the Grieg piano concerto, the scales and arpeggios the piano plays will always get completely washed out by the orchestra when live but when recorded you can hear both. I will of course go see the live thing over listening at home, but at home I want that detail. Plus you don’t have to deal with coughing:)

I too bemoan the lack of dedicated audio stores. Theres only one in my area but when I mentioned my budget was 750-1000 for a starter system he just ignored me, apparently not worth it for him unless dropping 10g’s or more. Would’ve saved a lot of hassle to just bring a system home to try. Went to best buy, the guy there was great and I wound up with what I have now.

Sorry for being long winded, I’ve got one more super important update. The denon has an eco mode that lowers power consumption. For a while I’ve thought that I’ve heard clipping or distortion especially with piano-only music…its been driving me nuts. Ive only had eco mode off (so full power), but I accidentally turned it on and BAM everything distorts like theres a wasps nest in there. The speakers are fine, its the amp (I tried them on an old broken 5 watt radio and they sounded fine). My listening level is usually around 70 db so it just shouldn’t be clipping at all, which means maybe my Denon isn’t 80 watts but 80 milliwatts. So maybe this whole thing is just a result of me buying a defective product! Sending it in for repairs or replacement. Everything is on hold until then.

Gosh this was rambly, but thank you so much to all your replies and advice.

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I wasn’t sure whether or not you implied you were listening to MP3 quality bitrates or not but the better the rest of your system gets it’s likely the worse those bitrates are going to sound.

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This is what I have currently, and I have nothing like the issues you speak of. It certainly doesn’t sound like an iPad.

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The problem is a ipad with it’s built in dac will not sound good in a main stereo system no matter how good your main system is. It may be ok with earbuds plugged to it if you have some decent earbuds, but not in a bigger system. You need a better source and dac.