Pulling my hair out here so spit on me & tell me I'm stupid!

Hello everyone,

So the teal deer of the situation here is to what extent does an amp affect the soundstage and imaging of an audio reproduction system? At what point are the speakers, sources, and room no longer the limiting factor? I have a small all in one out of the box solution that has consistently out performed all my other larger gear in terms of the soundstage size, image focus, and overall spatial realism. And at this point its driving me absolutely bonkers. I don’t want to mindlessly spend more money on gear and the time it takes to setup just to have a dirt cheap plug & play system run circles around it in terms of spatial realism. So can someone please tell me I’m being a stupid audio cuck here and elaborate on what actually generates a decent sound stage and imaging even if that does mean the amp I’m using sucks and needs to go?

If you want the book version with more details read on >>>>

I started getting more serious about audio around 5 yrs ago. My dad despite being a white guy from an upper middle class background and making good money was never into audio growing up nor did I really know anyone who was so I had no point of reference.

After playing around with desktop headphone setups for a bit I think I might have made perhaps the greatest and worst audio purchase in history. Once the headphones were out of the way I needed an equally good computer speaker setup. I ended up going with a pair of Vanatoo T0s and a cheap 8" sub placed under my desk. And oh boy what a revelation that was. I had never heard speakers before that were both so inoffensive and life like at the same time.

The Vanatoo T0’s are absolutely perfect in a near field listening situation where space is at a premium as it usually is for computer setups. The problem I’ve had ever since is how to put together an equally enjoyable living room / home theatre setup without spending several orders of magnitude more money.

I’m currently using a Crown XLS 1002 to power a pair of JBL Studio 530s that I just picked up on sale from JBL for a paltry $270 I just couldn’t turn down. I was using a pair of KEF Q150s before the JBLs. The Crown is fed with a Schiit Modi Multibit (also got an SMSL Sanskrit 10th & Modius I just like the Modi MB better) into a Garage 1217 Ember II hybrid tube head amp and preamp. My room is 25’x15’x8’ and is not treated but overall its super damp as in one of the most acoustically inert rooms I’ve been in. But my projection screen sits to the side of a door way so the speakers sit closer to one side wall then the other and there’s a void behind one speaker and not the other.

Overall I’m very happy with the sound signature of both the KEF Q150s and the JBL Studio 530s. I’d say the KEFs are a little darker and laid back sounding while the JBLs are a little more lively and V shaped in sound. But I’ve kinda realized I don’t give a crap about sound signature as long as it gets reasonably close to neutral while still being fun which lots of stuff does no problem. Before learning how to play an instrument and doing more critical listening I was basically tone def lol. So for me soundstage and imaging or how the sound is spatially presented is FAR more important in terms of getting that WOW factor.

So my problem is this. Both the KEF Q150s and JBL Studio 530s are relatively well received speakers in the $600 range and yet they fail to have the same imaging and soundstage magic that the Vanatoo T0s pull off with ease. The T0s don’t sound as full bodied as the larger speakers but the vocals sound so much like they are in the room I can almost reach out with my hands and strangle the singer in front of me by sound alone XD. The center image on the JBLs and KEFs sounds downright fuzzy and blurred out particularly in the vertical direction compared to the Vanatoos. In addition even when I have the larger speakers on stands next to the screen (110" diag. oh yeah!) and pulled out from the walls the Vanatoos project a much much larger and deeper soundstage sitting right next to me on the coffee table about 12’ from the screen. And if they had a bit more of a filled out mid range I literally would have trouble telling which speakers the sound was coming from.

What is going on here!?!?! Is it just room acoustics since the Vanatoos sit a lot closer and don’t suffer from wall reflections as much? It seems like they still image like beasts even when pushed up against a wall in a desk setup. Could it be less front baffle diffractions since they are physically smaller speakers? I doubt the high frequency dispersion is any worse on the JBLs with their massive wave guides compared to the Vanatoos that have very little if any and only seem to be using nondescript soft dome silk tweeters.

So my main question is could it actually be my amp? I’ve heard the JBLs are suppose to have a stupidly focused center image and while they are certainly better than the KEFs the Vanatoos still make them both look like utter jokes at half the price with a built in amp & DAC. I’ve also heard while the Crown XLS 1002 is a good amp for what it is it does suffer a bit of dryness and a compressed soundstage. Could this be my problem? I really can’t justify spending over 1k on an amp for $270 speakers atm. The tube pre helped a bit and didn’t seem to hurt anything but I just don’t get the spatial realism I get from the Vanatoos and its driving me crazy. Could it be a DSP thing? Both the Crown amp and the Vanatoos use DSP. The Vanatoos also still seem to sound great if not even better when fed from a good external DAC. Maybe the timings are being thrown slightly off by the DA conversion in the Crown?

The only thing short of swapping out my amp I can think of would be trying to do some DSP room correction with a calibrated mic, REW, and Equalizer APO since I almost always use a PC as my source. So if anyone thinks its my amp and can come up with some alternatives under 1k that might give me better soundstage and imaging I’d love to hear it. Otherwise I’m totally fine with a general discussion on how amplification does or does not affect soundstage and imaging. There seems to be lots of information out there on how equipment and room setup impact the frequency response but not so much when it comes to getting the right timings and spatial presentation.

I should note I really don’t have any complaints about the Crown amp when it comes to tone, speed, and grip over the drivers. All that and there’s more power than you will ever need and its so darn neutral you can immediately hear your speakers and source components. Since I’m mostly relegated to cheap inefficient bookshelf’s I certainly like having at least 100w on tap into 8 ohms. While I’m definitely bothered by the DA conversion on the Crown I really really like having an adjustable high pass on the amp since most sub manufacturers these days are out of their minds and don’t provide a high pass line level output for smaller speakers since they just assume subs are only for poopy home theatre receivers.

So I’d love to hear from some other soundstage fanatics if you found amps helped or that the Crown just sucks in that regard. If an amp just amplifies the signal without altering it I don’t see why it should have any bearing on imaging since its timing based. That would be either the recording or your source device. But maybe I’m being stupid here and just imagining things. Either way I’ve about had it swapping out components just to get the same soundstage I get on an out of the box solution costing considerably less. Either the Vanatoos are that good and that much of a steal or I’m doing something wrong =(.


Don’t waste time and money swapping out amps and other gear.

Speaker and listener positioning, period.

Once you PROPERLY have the speakers and your listening position PROPERLY set up, you will get excellent sound stage width, depth AND height, as well as great imaging.

I had those JBL Studio 530’s for a while in my system, and once set up PROPERLY, they completely disappeared and threw out a great stage and image presentation.

I had mine about 4 feet from the front wall, and a little over 2 feet from the side walls, with a pair of Schiit Aegir amps running mono (80 watts each).

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The Crown amps are pretty shitty for music. But like @Chops mentions your room is the biggest factor speaker positioning is the second biggest factor. You’ll be able to work through 90% of most issues addressing those two thing.

Another though so you can try an apples to apples comparison. Place the Vanatoos where you have the JBL and see how they sound as a comparison point.

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The only Crown amps I would ever consider for home hifi use (since I used them in the past for super efficient open baffle loudspeakers) are the D-45 and D-75a amps, which were designed for studio monitors in the recording/mastering studios.

If your room has bare tile or hardwood floors, throw down a large area rug that spans the width of your speakers. That was the single largest improvement in my particular room.

My system has changed considerably since those pics above (about a year ago), and I have yet to get around to doing room treatments, but even with these ugly, nasty temporary baffles that I’m using currently, these open baffle speakers completely disappear in the room, with a perfect center image and great soundstage and imaging.


It will blow ur mind. Do it.

You cannot not.
Magnitude (speaker size) is needed for a great and mind bending sound experience.

DSP isn’t the ultimate answer to everything. Doesn’t matter how much DSP you use, it only corrects so much. It’s good at taming peaks, but it’s going to do next to nothing for nulls/suck-outs, which are more noticeable than peaks are.

DSP also will not do a whole lot of good for sound stage and imaging either.

The best thing to do is perfect your speaker and listening position first, then treat the room in any way you can or are willing to. Then… If you want, play around with DSP to fine tune in the end.

Did not say it would be the ultimate answer to everything now did i?

Of course.
You have to lower the pants down first before you take a shit and sit on the toilet.
Room correction and DSP is just baby powder after the clean up and wipe.

But they do make big improvement after speaker are being in correct position.
Even if the room is treatment or not.
Yes, does not effect sound stage on a song but that’s more common knowledge in my books.
But in surround effects! You can make the “speakers” seem or go wider than they are.
If you have a “passing car surround test”. You can make the car go further or closer and so on.

Just making sure we’re both on the same page. Besides, they make Depends for a reason. LOL

+1 for placement of the 530s. I had the exact same issue you are describing with the sound signature. Once I sorted positioning they came alive. I’m running them via Pc → SMLS SU9 → basX A-100, untreated room.

Best of luck!

Okay no love for the Crown amp then lol. From what I was reading about it I figured it would be close enough in sound to a DIY ICEpower or Hypex based amp, at least to my ears, but cheaper and with no work involved XD.

I’m a little more limited on placement with the projector screen needing its own space. Adjustments of several feet even seem to help a bit as does playing around with toe in but mostly with center image focus. I can’t for the life of me get the soundstage widened up. How much toe in did you use?

Did that! They sound like small speakers but they still have that “actually in the room with you” magic imaging and soundstage in nearfield. Farfield it completely falls apart but I figure they just aren’t big enough for the room at that point. The JBLs also don’t seem to image as well even in the nearfield.

My room actually has lots of soft surfaces already and is carpeted so no worries there. I have a feeling the first reflection point on the ceiling might be why my center image sounds so stretched out and blurred in the vertical direction.

Nice good to hear it can actually help. I figure worst case scenario its a really overall cheap and easy way to improve frequency response since I’m not a purist and friggin love parametric software EQs.

Oh for sure! But I also wouldn’t want to be this guy. >>> https://youtu.be/XJJy6VJvSCk :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: I would lover larger speakers but I really am not wanting more volume or lows at this point. I’m literally struggling to keep my subs turned down low enough and the compression tweeters seem to reach the back of the room just fine. Mid range could be a little more full but they are two ways with a small woofer and super low cross over point on the tweeter. For what they are its nothing some EQing can’t fix. I’m mostly after a bigger spatial presentation which the Vanatoos at like 1/5th the size of the JBLs pull off far better. Might be the smaller baffle size like how open baffle speakers image better partly due to less baffle diffractions.

I guess I’ll get them setup on a desk and see if they behave more like the Vanatoos in that situation. I’ve heard people love these on a desk but I don’t know they really like the juice and need some volume to sound their best. I really don’t think I would want a wave guided compression tweeter a couple feet from my ears at those power levels.

Beautiful setup btw! :heart_eyes: :heart_eyes: :heart_eyes: What subs are those? I’m basically running a very similar setup with dual subs at the front between the two mains. I have mine pulled out about 3ft from the front and side walls. But they sit closer to one side of the room than the other for home theatre duty since that’s where the screen is. So I feel like they are already pretty close to as setup as I’m going to get them without ripping down my projection setup which just went up =(.

Like you I have a doorway behind the left speaker but there’s no door its open. Should I like put like an acoustic panel behind it to even things out? The right sidewall is a bit close but its a window with curtains so probably doesn’t reflect sounds too bad with the curtains drawn.

How did you like the JBLs with the Schiit gear? I might loose some objectivist cred but I really like my Modi MB. 80w might not cut it in my room. I was pushing my KEFs up to 100w easy when really cranking the volume and I definitely wouldn’t want to go much past that point but the headroom is nice. But of course there’s also the Vidar. And I’ve never gotten around to trying out anything from Emotiva and their amps look pretty well built and dirt cheap for class AB.

Yeah my dream would be open baffle or panel speakers (because of the imaging of course) of one type of the other some day. I just don’t think I have the room to get them pulled away enough and I like LOTS of different types of music. Certain dipole speakers might not have the slam and punch needed for my EDM stuff.

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I mean, the Crown amps will work and will sound good, but they won’t have the refinement and resolving power of decent home hifi amps.

Keep in mind, some speakers just don’t produce a sound stage much wider than their physical positions in the room. It’s just the nature of some speakers. The NHT 2.9’s I have are a perfect example of that. They have great imaging and sound stage, but that stage is always kept within just inches of the outside edges of the front baffles. In order to get a wider stage, you need a wider room and have them pulled further apart from each other.

With that being said, one of my brothers had those Q150’s for a short while and got rid of them within a couple of months because he couldn’t get any staging out of them. They imaged just fine, just didn’t have any width or depth at all. We found that extremely odd because nearly every speaker he’s put in his system in that room has always produced excellent wide and deep staging, even medium to large towers.

The 530’s on the other hand, we both got excellent results with them. The nice thing about them (and pretty much all horn designs in general) have a lot less issues with side wall interactions due to the tighter directivity of the horns. My room is pretty small (12.5’ x 15.5’ x 8’) and his is something like 15’ x 18’ x 8’ with a large 4’ wide opening in the front left side wall right along side the left speaker, and a matching opening in the rear right back wall, neither of which have doors. Oddly enough, he also gets pretty amazing flat bass response in that room as well with either just one sub just right of center on the front wall, or no sub at all with capable towers in there.

As for toe-in, my brother has always preferred very little toe-in. I imagine if you put lasers on the fronts of his speakers, their points would probably cross like 60 to 70 feet behind his listening position. My preference is having the speakers paths cross about 10’ behind me, but that’s just a general rule. Some speakers require a little more toe-in, some require a little less. I would say (and from judging from the pics I posted above) I had the 530’s crossing paths around 10’ behind me as well.

I kind of doubt that considering the amount of absorption you already have in the room. Believe it or not, it could have something to do with your front wall, what you have between the speakers, whether or not you have a coffee table between you and the speakers or not, and how close you are to the back wall and how reflective that back wall is. It can also have something to do with how high or low your speakers sit as well as the height of your ears when seated, if the speakers are tilted at all, and if they are physically perfectly equal distances from the front wall, though that last one usually just skews the image more to one side than the other due to one speaker being slightly closer to you than the other.

Thank you. Those are Polk Audio PSW 505’s. I’ve had those subs for years, ever since they were fist introduced. I always felt they were somewhat lacking, but realized much later on that it was from using interconnects to feed them their signal. After about 7 years of using them that way, I tried feeding them signal from my amp into their high-level speaker inputs. That made all the difference in the world. They instantly got deeper, got tighter, and a heck of a lot more musical. I’ve run that way ever since. Also, adding those IsoAcoustics ISO-200 isolation stands under them helped out a lot as well, tightening them up even more and bringing out more texture and detail.

I now run a pair of JL Audio e110 subs, set up the same way. In that last pic I posted with the open baffles, if you see those two small NuPrime STA-9 amps (120 watts per channel) under the audio rack, the top one powers the bass drivers on the baffles (95 dB efficient), the bottom one feeds the signal to the JL’s. That’s its only purpose, pretty much just sitting there at idle the entire time. Doing so, the JL’s sound a heck of a lot better that way rather than getting their signal directly from the dbx DriveRack Venu 360.

Also, as a side note, I have a ridiculous 500 watt per channel Emotive XPA-2 Gen 2 amp powering the 98 dB sensitive Audio Nirvana 12" Super fullrange drivers! I originally purchased that amp to power the Martin Logan SL3’s that I also have. They needed the 800 watts this amp puts out at 4 ohms, but these fullrange drivers don’t need any of that, but the amp sounds great, and it’s silent, so I kept it in the system.

The way I had my system set up at the time, I was playing the 530’s fullrange. Even then, they got pretty darn loud without any stress, and those Aegir amps powered them effortlessly. Now if I had them crossed over with the dbx, I would have been able to safely play them louder and the Aegir’s 80 watts would go even further.

I’ve had Magnepan’s, Martin Logan’s, and two different DIY open baffles, and the open baffles always imaged much better, with bigger, wider staging as well. The open baffles handle dynamics a whole heck of a lot better than the Maggies or ML’s could ever dream of doing. And they do it with a whole heck of a lot less power. They’re also much more capable with all sorts of music genera and movies. For the “slam and punch”, that’s what the subwoofers are for.

What I’m running right now, that single 12" bass driver at the bottom of each open baffle shakes the $h!t out of my floors, and they’re crossed over at 50 Hz. The subs take over from there, but since they’re isolated from the floor, they don’t vibrate the floor anything like those bass drivers do.

As an example, we watched God Zilla vs King Kong last week, two days in a row, and I had this system blasting, hitting peaks well above 110 dB and it was totally clean and effortless sounding from top to bottom. The neighbors across the street were standing in their garage looking over at our house wondering what the heck was going on as the floor were shaking, all of the windows in the front of our house were rattling, and I knocked two pictures off the wall in the master bedroom all the way down the other end of the hallway behind that door you see behind my left speaker.

BTW, I have six more of those bass drivers waiting for me to design and build much larger, taller baffles to run them in, for a total of four bass drivers on either side, two above and two below the fullrange driver.

Point being, I have always had the best luck with music and movies with open baffles over anything else, even large Klipsch Cornwall’s.

Just for run, my very first open baffle project using five Usher Audio 15" woofers across the front and three Altec Lansing Voice Of The Theater 511b horns and 908-8 drivers, 7’ tall baffles, 4 c.f. sealed enclosure for the center channel, plus dual push-pull 15" sub in a 7 c.f. sealed enclosure.

Believe it or not, those open baffles/horns imaged like crazy, put out a huge wide sound stage, and absolutely disappeared in the room with music. Everyone told me while working on designing and building those that they would never work, saying you can not use horns with open baffles. Ultimately, I proved them drastically wrong… Five or so years later I started seeing people and companies building open baffles with horns all the time. I should have patented that design dammit.


i dunnu man, looks to me all the magic comes from the red and blue lava lamps :slightly_smiling_face:


i have q150’s and they image very well. i have mine on a pair of end tables flanking my tv. they get knocked around by the cats and grand kids all the time. point is, they do not stay in the same position very much. just roughly pointing them and moving them back to “normal”, makes them disappear with great sound stage.

i feel your crown amp is the main culprit. i do not own the jbl’s, but my experience with the q150’s tells me getting a great sound front should be easy with them.

What do you use to drive the 150s?

strd750? crap forget the model name. the cheapest sony AV/R they make

edit: the one that goes on sale for 150$(how much i paid)

edit2: ok the strdh590 is the model

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they play fairly loud on max on it, but honestly the amp sounds really good, but is rather weak.

edit: i also only use 2 channels, don’t have full on 5.1 setup.

It’s not. Yes, amps contribute “some” to sound stage and imaging, but nowhere near the extent of proper positioning of the speakers and your room. You’re source, DAC and preamp will have more of an effect on sound stage and imaging than an amp will.

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