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To Hans Wetzel,

I am replacing my old system and can use a hand in narrowing the field of amp and speaker pairings for my situation. My room is about 20’ x 25’ with a 12’ ceiling. Due to the room arrangements, I am limited to a speaker of 12” in height or less. Yes, not ideal, hence the request for some guidance.

My listening tastes run from jazz to vocals to classical to blues, as well as some rock’n’roll. I enjoy a warm, non-fatiguing sound; perhaps more musical than the ultimate in detail (heart or head?). At this point, I’ve narrowed the speakers to two; however, I am open to suggestions. The two: Harbeth P3ESR and Dynaudio Excite X14.

As for integrated amps, I am a bit all [over] the map. The ones I am considering include: Rega Brio-R, Hegel Music Systems H80, Bel Canto Design C5i, Rogue Audio Sphinx, and NuPrime Audio IDA-8. I’ve enjoyed reading the reviews of some of these on the SoundStage! sites, but would like a few suggestions as to pairings best suited for my situation.

Thanks,
Jim King
United States

Lot of variables there, Jim. Let’s start with your requirement for a “warm, non-fatiguing sound.” I like the idea of potentially one of your two components sounding a bit warm, but the other being as neutral as possible. Of the two speakers you mention, the Dynaudio will be the more neutral, faithful transducer, while the Harbeth will err on the warm, natural side of the spectrum. Both loudspeakers have a great reputation. Another no-brainer to consider would be KEF’s LS50 -- it is exceptional for the money, with a broadly neutral profile, and a flash of musicality in the midrange and upper bass.

I’m not entirely sure where to start with your amp suggestions, as two are analog-based integrated amp-DACs, two are pure analog integrated amps, and one is a digital-only integrated amp-DAC. Each comes from a manufacturer with a sterling reputation (NuPrime excepted, if only because it’s such a young company with a limited track record), and I don’t think there’s a “wrong” choice here.

That said, fellow reviewer Roger Kanno raved about the NuPrime IDA-8, and I have been eager to get my hands on one. If you can live without analog connectivity, that looks to be THE amp to have for under $1000, and would constitute my starting point for you. Rogue Audio’s Sphinx has a pair of Russian tubes in it, but they don’t manifest themselves in the way you might expect, with a really rich, warm, liquid midrange. Actually, the Sphinx has a livelier, exciting sound to it. Rather, the tubes offer the Sphinx a certain three-dimensionality that is difficult to find at its sub-$1500 price point. And you can’t go wrong with Hegel’s H80, but at $2000, I’m not sure it is twice as good as the NuPrime. I’m not familiar enough with the Rega or Bel Canto Design amps to offer meaningful advice on those models. The only other integrated amp I’d suggest in your price range that might meet your requirements is Arcam’s A19. It’s a sweet little amp with a dense, hearty sonic profile to it.

All that said, I’ll offer two suggestions. First, I’d try the NuPrime IDA-8 and partner it with the Harbeths (or alternatively, the KEFs). That combination should get you the warmth you’re looking for, with an abundance of resolving ability and power. If you’re leaning toward the Dynaudio, however, I’d partner it with the Rogue Audio Sphinx or Arcam’s A19. The Rogue isn’t exactly tonally warm, but it has a lovely sense of midrange presence. The Arcam, on the other hand, offers that velvety tonal density, which should complement the Dynaudio’s neutral sound. Good luck! . . . . Hans Wetzel