What is bi-wiring and why do you need it? — Bi-wiring means using two sets of cables from a single amp output (or a stereo channel) to two separate pairs of connectors on the speakers (those designed for a bi-wire connection). Typically, the high and mid frequencies are connected together and the bass separately. This configuration increases the available current from the amp to the speaker and results in a greater separation, better tonal balance and a more open sound stage. (For more detailed explanation, please, visit htttp://www.vandersteen.com.)
What does a speaker power rating in watts mean? — It is incorrect to assume that the power rating for a pair of speakers represents how loud they will play. In fact, it is more related to the amps and the needed power to drive certain speakers. It is important to know what minimum power is required to obtain proper sound reproduction. And, contrary to the common belief, there is never too much power available from the amp. A higher powered amp is far less likely to blow your speakers than a lower powered one that is being overdriven. More power will result in a greater headroom and a more effortless presentation. Your dealer should make a recommendation on the best amp/speaker combination since it is the most important pairing in your audio system.
What cables do you recommend? — If you hear a salesperson recommending “XYZ” cables without asking about your system, you should question either his/her knowledge or honesty. The truth is that there are many different cable designs, made of different materials and offering a different sound. Each cable, used in the proper combination, can sound very good. Improperly chosen cables will degrade the sound of the components. Your choice of cables should depend on your system components. They are the last item you should buy when you are in the process of putting together any high-end audio/video system. Cables can change sound of the system and are used as a finishing touch to balance your system, the same as the VTA (vertical tracking angle) adjustment to the cartridge on your turntable.
How much should I spend to get good sound? — Spending as much as you can afford doesn’t mean that you will end up with the best sound. Careful matching of components to meet your budget can produce surprising results. Some systems costing much less, when in the right room, can sound a lot better than mis-matched systems costing many times more. The best approach is to visit different stores and listen to several systems that meet your budget. Then listen to one or two costing less and one or two costing more. If you hear the differences, then buy the system that sounds best to you. Don’t buy on the only idea that more is better. Of course, bigger, more expensive systems should sound better, as a rule, and bring you closer to the live concert experience, but it doesn't always happen.
How should I go about choosing my system? — The first items to choose are your speakers. This choice very much depends on the size of your room and its sonic signature since room/speaker interaction is the most important thing to consider for an optimized sound. The fact that you like these speakers in the store doesn’t mean that you will like them at home. Matching them to the amp comes as the second most important factor and it is always better to do it in this order. Then, you should either spend time listening to different components to complete your system or follow your dealer's recommendation. The chances are that if these speakers sounded good in the store, the components you heard together as a system will perform as well in your place.
You most likely will have certain music preferences (Baroque, small jazz combos, singers, etc.) You should bring samples of your own recordings with you and try to find the speakers that will play them best. Many people make the mistake of auditioning speakers on musical material they don’t care for, just to test the speakers for full range, loudness, big bass, etc., when, in fact, they need speakers with best possible midrange to play small jazz combos, for example. Or, just the opposite.
Is solid state better than tube or vise versa? — It is almost impossible to answer this question in a simple way. Each design has its own “good” and “bad” aspects. Solid state amps provide more power and current, and are maintenance free. Tube amplifiers are less powerful, need tube replacements, biasing, a well ventilated area, but will reward you with a warmer midrange, better highs and a more defined sound stage. Some of the newer solid-state designs come very close to the sound of tube amps, but the latter still have an edge in timbre quality over solid state, in most cases.
Some speakers are very difficult to drive, with low sensitivity, and, almost certainly, will require a solid state amp. Most speakers on the market, however, present a relatively easy load and could be driven by either design. Sound or practicality then would be the only reason for purchasing one over the other. Many people choose a tube preamp with a solid state amp to get the best of the two. Obviously, listening to both types of amplification is recommended prior to making any purchase.
How do I know if my system sounds right? — In fact, it is very easy. Go to any un-amplified live concert and then compare it to your system. If your system sounds not too far off from what you just heard live, you are on the right track. Any system has room to improve, but, at different levels, it should give you musical enjoyment the way you would enjoy a live performance. If your system sounds too "limited" when compared with the live experience, then you should look for answers. Just remember, even in “The Best of the Best” audio systems, we can only get so close. To duplicate a live performance of a symphony orchestra in your room is virtually impossible. But, we can get closer, and closer, and closer....
If you are happy with the sound of the system you have or are planning to purchase, this is the most important thing. After all, you are the one who will live with this sound day after day; not your friends, your dealer or a reviewer. Remember this.