The State of Sound

AUDIO EXPERIENCE FROM FRANCE

Yes, we can !

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Yes, it is possible to put together your first high-fidelity sound system for around 1,000 euros! As promised, here is a basic sound system for those on a limited budget who are venturing into the realm of high-quality HIFI for the first time. In this post, I am excited to share my impressions of a sound system I have been using for several months; it is a very attractive combination of components.

Here are the components I have brought together:

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What advantages does this system offer? For whom? And how is it best used?

All of the components of this system have one thing in common: they have few serious competitors in this price range. In particular, a special prize goes to the small Davis EVA bookshelf speakers for their low cost of 190 €. This system is relatively easy to install and produces sound that is homogenous and consistent. It is perfect for all those who want to build their first system or who want to replace obsolete components. Given that this system is relatively less powerful, I strongly discourage you from setting it up in a room that is larger than 25 m2 or in a very open space. I first installed it in my 25-m2 living room, then in my 12-m2 den (where it was much better off than in the living room), and finally in my 9-m2 office, resting on my desktop. I must admit that this particular small set of speakers would not have been my first choice, since, to be honest, I wouldn’t have expected to get quality speakers in this price range.

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When I auditioned the system, I was immediately struck by the bass, which was quite respectable for speakers of this size; even if its range is a bit limited, the bass nonetheless shows remarkable depth. These little EVAs demonstrate a nice degree of fluidity and remain true to the music’s tones, which is rather rare for speakers in their price category. They are particularly adroit at handling music by small acoustic bands. I was pleasantly surprised by the vivacity of these small speakers; the long hours I spent listening to them have confirmed to me that they are a superb match for the Atoll electronics. Their low price is even more surprising given that their assembly and finish are impeccable.

It is important to remember that, as with all bookshelf speakers, the EVAs need to be set up at ear level (relative to the seated listener). And, given their size, you should be wary of adjusting them “upwards”; ideally the tweeter should be situated at ear level. If you decide to use the stands, I recommend that you plan on situating the speakers at a height of 80 cm minimum. Or, if possible, you can always place them on a real bookshelf or on a desktop, assuming that the latter is at the right height.

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The Atoll electronics are starter models, but the Normandy-based manufacturer has not made any compromises when it comes to its brand’s core value: producing clear and neutral sound. In contrast, to be able to offer a competitive price, Atoll chose to forgo certain features on this amplifier model: the device cannot be adjusted like the rest of the products in the series—it is impossible to add a phono card or wireless adapter—and to save money, the volume dial has been replaced by two small buttons (+ and -); the latter is a shame and not very practical. The remote control will prove to be the preferred method of controlling the system, especially since it also allows you to control the CD player as well. The efficiency of the amplifier/CD pair really complements the dynamic energy of the small Davis speakers; the system’s power is the only real handicap, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

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The Odiosis cables (whose quality I praised in a previous post) do an excellent job of competing with much more expensive cables. Given that they cost only 15 € per meter, it would be ridiculous to deprive ourselves. It is erroneous to believe that high-quality cables only make a difference when it comes to high-end systems; what stops us from imagining using them is their cost! Can you imagine spending 300 € on cables when your speakers cost only 190 €? Odiosis offers high-quality cables at a very accessible price, and the HF PRO BM cables fully contribute to the integrity of the sound system by yielding a lovely audio image. Indeed, the trials I conducted with starter-level cables that cost a little less were less than conclusive. I strongly discourage being penny wise and pound foolish in this context: by trying to save a few euros, you may end up putting the integrity of your system in jeopardy.

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The Approach

As with a good wine, a good system needs time to “breathe”: you have to unceasingly conduct new trials to appreciate it from different perspectives; it takes time to confirm your impressions; and you have to audition the system at different times of the day and in different rooms. I therefore tried varying the parameters in such a way as to get a maximum number of different combinations while controlling for different factors. I always played the same albums (you can check out my playlist here). My approach consisted of conducting listening tests comparing different sets of speakers using the same set of electronics and then vice versa. Then I would vary the cables. I also auditioned the system in different rooms—my 25-m2 living room, my 12-m2 den, and my 9-m2 office—and varied its physical location within each of those rooms.

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A Long-Lasting and Upgradable Choice

The construction quality of these components means that you are choosing devices that will last. Thanks to the high level of performance of the amp/CD pair (IN30/CD30), you may also choose, in a few years, to move towards higher quality speakers, which cost a few hundred euros on average. The other possibility is sticking with these very charming EVAs and complementing them with their little sisters in the series (the EVA C1 center speaker, the EVA subwoofer, and EVA 5 floorstanding speakers), thus building a custom system similar to the 2.1 or even 5.1 Home Theater systems (in that case, you would also need to upgrade to a multi-channel amplifier, such as the Atoll AV 50). Finally, it should be noted that the EVAs come with a wall-mounting kit that uses a single screw, a small detail that may take on importance should you choose to incorporate them into a home theater set-up.

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My Conclusions

This particularly homogenous system is especially well suited to spaces of modest size and shows off its strengths when playing acoustic musical offerings (jazz or baroque music). Once these two conditions are met, the system will have very nice delivery and will allow you to take your first steps into the HIFI realm, assuming, of course, that the high-fidelity universe is foreign to you. Putting together this system is a bit like bringing together good sense and youth. This union of components is attractive, and those involved will very quickly establish a beautiful intimacy (however, please note that the breaking-in period for the speakers is absolutely essential; I will address it in a future post). I only have one regret: the Atoll electronics quickly become rather imposing and disproportionate given the size of the EVA speakers. It would be nice if Atoll and other manufacturers offered more compact or even all-in-one products. However, given that the price-musicality ratio of this system is without comparison, these inconveniences will quickly become secondary, or even negligible, given the level of pleasure you will experience.

I am currently auditioning other sound systems, with the plan of moving on to a relatively higher end system. In particular, I am working on putting together a system that will jump rather considerably in quality; as icing on the cake, there will be reasonable solutions for those who want to move towards digital music formats. Thanks for your patience; since time is a crucial factor, this work is “to be continued”…

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Wiring & Technical Specifications

ATOLL IN 30

  • 4 Inputs (CD, TUNER, DVD, AUX)
  • 1 Tape Input (or by-pass);
  • 1 jack Input (3,5mm) for media player ;
  • 1 headphones output (3,5mm) ;
  • 1 preamp. Output ;
  • Puissance  2x50WRMS / 8 Ohm
  • Puissance impulsionnelle  90 W
  • Sensibilité  280 mV
  • Alimentation 170 V
  • Total capacitif (µF) 20 000 µF
  • Impédance d’entrée (kΩ) 220 kOhms
  • Bande passante 5 Hz-100 kHz

ATOLL CD 30

  • Original transport drive from TEAC (compatible CD, CD-R, CD-RW; MP3 format; CD text) ;
  • Converter Wolfson WM8729 ;
  • Audio stages with discrete components, symetrical scheme ;
  • USB input (USB host) ;
  • Dot matrix display ;
  • ATOLL global remote control on serial

DAVIS EVA SPEAKERS

  • Bass reflex : port on the front
  • Nominal power : 80 W
  • Max power : 110 W
  • Number of ways : 2
  • Number of drivers : 2
  • Sensitivity : 88 dB
  • Frequency response : 55-20000 Hz
  • Tweeter : soft dome  25mm
  • Médium : –
  • Woofer : fiber glass 13 cm
  • Dimensions (cm) : 28x18x20
  • Weight (kg) : 3
  • Impedance : 4…8 ohms
  • Frequency cut off : 3500 Hz

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