System Rebuild - Arcam/B&W > Naim/Focal

Hi All,

I’m new to the forum and hope to get some advice on how to proceed with rebuilding my two channel system. My current system (Arcam A85, Arcam CD92, Rega P3/Elys 2, B&W 603 S2) is aging and has seen better days. The speakers were never intended to last as long as they did, but it was all we could afford at the time…and then we had kids. About a year ago the speakers were damaged (little fingers poked in the tweeters and then tipped over one of the speakers cracking the face frame) and the clock started ticking again.

Time passes and we’re excited to get started on rebuilding. I’m here because the new system is going to be a Naim. I’ve listed to many Naim systems and for at last 15 years I’ve been plotting.

Most of our listening is on the P3 but we have a good sized CD collection and we’re into that a fair amount as well. At the moment the plan is a phased approach: new speakers (???), new integrated amp (Naim Nait XS 3 or similar priced higher spec used) and a steaming player (ND5 XS 2, used ND5 XS or other) in that order. I’ll probably spend the next year or so working on putting it together and I plan on taking my time with the exception of the speakers which have to go ASAP.

I’ve been spending some time researching speakers and generated a search model. Recently I found a couple pairs of used Focal Aria 926’s that I’ve been strongly considering based on reviews, price and the end goal for the system. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to audition them and given the variables (evolving system, COVID-19, etc) I’m not even sure that it would be helpful. One of the pairs I’ve been looking at are a former display models from a local retailer which are reported to be flawless and priced at $2,900 CDN.

I hope to be back for advice along the way and any thoughts forum members have on my process, the Aria 926’s as a starting point and my overall system goals would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

This is my advice, too. I’ve listened to quite a few Focal speakers, and personally I couldn’t live with any of them. You really need to listen to a few different speakers and find out what works for you.
If you’re going to buy a streamer, I presume you intend to rip your CDs. In which case I would buy an Innuos Zen Mini and connect it to your amp. This makes CD ripping relatively painless, and also gives you Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, iRadio, Roon etc. You can then upgrade it with a separate DAC, or a Naim streamer, and use it as a server, so it will not be redundant as your system grows.

Some years ago I decided it was time for new speakers I took my amps (older models) to the local dealership and tried a few in their demo room, selected a pair of Focals after trying a few others in my price range (and a bit above it). Taking the demo pair home to try in situ I found they were painfully harsh in my living room and no amount of repositioning or reflection point absorber would cure it. I’m glad I didn’t buy those on the basis of even a shop demo let alone reviews.
What is the dealer culture like where you are? When I was relatively unknown to the dealership I would have to pay a card deposit for the cost of any demonstration stock I borrowed, now I’m well known to them (and they’ve had a lot of my custom) that is a bit more flexible.

Speakers stamp their character on the sound more than any other component, and it really is vital to hear - ideally in your own system at home, but even at a dealer will give a reasonable indication as to whether you may like them or loathe them - and it can be that much of a difference.

By way of example, when I was buying my first pair of commercially made speakers (previous having been DIY), I researched reviews and drew up a shortlist of 12 or 13 models, many of them the respective manufacturer’s top of the range. Price range in today’s money around £2-2.5k, and all had had glowing reviews. I was shocked to find how different they all sounded from one another. All but 3 I rejected by the end of the first track played - rubbish to my ears, despite the not insubstantial cost. I rejected another after a slightly longer listen, and that left just two needing time to listen more thoroughly with a variety of music to compare properly to decide for certain which I preferred. If I had gone on reviews and bought anything other than one of those last two I would have been bitterly disappointed.

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