An entry level high-end system

by Keijo Tanskanen

Ari Kilpeläinen is an audio enthusiast who has quite a long history of hifi enthusiasm. He is also a building engineer which adds some technical aspects to his audio equipment evaluation and audio enthusiasm.

Ari’s first serious audio experiences were during the 1970’s when people in Finland widely listened to Hurriganes’ Roadrunner and Elton John’s Crocodile Rock. During those days Ari only had a mono radio cassette recorder but soon he also listened to a Sanyo tape recorder which offered a new stereo experience. Then Ari’s father purchased a B&O stereo system which brought a huge improvement to the sound but if compared done to the system Ari owns today the sound quality would have seemed quite poor!

When Ari moved to his own house he bought a Pioneer stereo system and Finnish OR UK-350 speakers. After a couple of years of saving up he purchased a more robust Pioneer system and B&W 330i speakers. That system served him well for many years until he heard a Yamaha integrated amp and Hifi 85/B (an assembly kit) speakers at his friend. Ari was blown away! When Ari moved again, to a relatively large apartment house, those speakers were soon found there. Anyway, Ari’s and his wife’s dreams of their own one-family house remained. At the beginning of this century they decided to start their new house project which included a separate listening room.

Those days Ari also started to be more and more interested in watching movies. Because of that a multi channel Pioneer system was purchased. Unfortunately its sound quality in stereo mode was quite poor and after updating the speakers to second hand Magneplanar 1.5 QRs, which sonically fit surprisingly well in a small listening room, the lacks of the amp were even more obvious. Although Ari tried a couple of Yamaha multi channel amps which offered more power resources he was not totally satisfied, especially when listening to bass-rich stereo music (for example Depeche Mode). Something needed to be done, but before the most crucial solutions he decided to exchange his Mg 1.5s to 1.6s and the Audio Pro subwoofer to a pair (!) of Velodyne SPL-1000R’s.

Ari thought that it would be very difficult and expensive to improve the stereo sound by purchasing a new multi channel amp and a multi format player. So, finally he decided to make a separation between the stereo and multi channel equipment and try a Bladelius S-101 stereo amp which his audiophile friend has recommended. That was a decision which he has never regretted! This amp offered enough power, very high quality stereo sound and naturally a possibility for the main channels to be used when the movies are watched. For traditional Red Book music Ari first bought an Audio Aero Prima Mk II and later a Bladelius Freja which is an even more accurate player and also has an appropriate look. At the same time Ari found that there are audible differences between cables as well. The ordinary interconnects were replaced by a pair of secondhand Siltech Forbes Lakes (a balanced model) and Transparent Music Wave 200 speaker cables were replaced by a pair of biwired Transparent Music Link Ultras which were also used. Now that the relationship between price and quality of the system has achieved quite an optimal level, Ari has declared himself a Maggie fan mostly because of the soundstaging features of this brand He has dreamed about the Magneplanar 3.6Rs but they are very likely too large for this room. Because of that, trials of traditional speakers are more probable.

Now it is time to consider some ideas to help Ari forward in his audio hobby. Ari thinks that although he is not a “frequency response” hifi enthusiast, it is good to be conscious of the importance of some basic measurements. When the minimum measurement requirements are fulfilled the rest of the equipment selection challenges are easy to bring to a conclusion by listening. Generally Ari tries to analyze the listening results as a whole but he mentioned that sometimes it is also necessary to go into details. The most important feature of Ari’s audio hobby is that he has to be relaxed during the listening sessions. He mentioned that this helps to forget the daily worries for a while and gives some mental therapy. The only negative side of equipment improvement is that bad recordings will become almost unlistenable. On the other hand, good recordings are even more enjoyable, Ari explained. Well, those are well known facts among audiophiles. Ari is not very critical to music material but his favorites are melodic rock and pop artists like Dire Straits, Alan Parson, Gregorian, Chris De Burgh and Celine Dion.

Ari’s system:

CD player: Bladelius Freja
Amplifier: Bladelius S-101
Speakers: Magneplanar 1,6 QR
Interconnects: Siltech Forbes Lake Balanced
Speaker cables: Transparent Music Link Ultra Biwired
Power cords: Standard power cords

Ari’s listening room is quite small, approximately 3 m x 5 m x 2,5 m, but it has good acoustic treatment. He confessed that the room resonances will still affect the listening results but they are not so prominent anymore.

Writer’s comments on the sound:

One could imagine that there can’t be very high quality sound in a listening room with the dimensions of Ari´s room. However, this experience brought that kind of suspects to shame. Two crucial things rise on the spot: the acoustic treatment and the speaker suitability for the room. Although the room resonances were still easily heard they were not too prominent. This means that it was a pleasure to listen to the music samples or even a greater pleasure to watch movies, which actually have the same importance for Ari and his wife.

First I’ll mention the numerous positive issues. The most characteristic feature for the sound was that there were no bad flaws! I would say that the presentation was universally enjoyable which is very important especially for long term listening. If one knows the family sound of the Magneplanars one knows also the sonical benefits of Ari’s system. During the sessions I noticed very good listenability and good resolution, coherency and airiness of the sound. I think Ari had managed to build a system with components that are well complementary to each other - the somewhat analytical and dry Bladelius front end suits the Maggies very well. An excellent match, including the cables!

Naturally I found some flaws on the sound quality too but it was quite easy to leave them in the background. Again, if one knows the relatively few weaknesses of the Magneplanars one knows the most of the noticed flaws too. Without a subwoofer the lowest octave was too recessed even though the level of the bass was otherwise a bit plentiful. Ari could naturally improve the range of the bass with his subwoofer but then the coherence and balance were a bit difficult to maintain. Also when compared to the best systems I’ve heard the sound lacked moderately in accuracy, control, dynamics, transparency and clarity but is this comparison fair? Naturally Ari could easily get several improvements but only with huge costs. Well, think about it! Alternatively he could get a different sound approximately at the same price. It really seems that the most reasonable relationship of the price and quality is already achieved just like Ari explained before.