Best Car Stereo Systems, Which stereo speakers should I buy for my old hi-fi set?

Beginner's Guide To Car Audio Systems - Best Car Stereo Systems

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Best Car Stereo Systems – The Rotel RA-810A is a classic stereo amplifier from the late 1980s. I remember it was well made and had a decent voice. However, it does have some drawbacks.

First, like all amplifiers of that era, RCA phono inputs on the back are designed to work with turntables, CD cassette players and cassettes. While RA-810A has a phono socket for AV / Aux, which you can choose from the knob on the front, this input has the same specifications as the others. There is no digital socket or HDMI of the type you will find on a new AV amplifier.

Best Car Stereo Systems

Secondly, Rotel RA-810A is somewhat underpowered, giving only 20 watts per channel. This is quickly fixed in subsequent models such as RA-820AX and RA-930AX. However, that means you need speakers that are efficient enough, or at least easy to drive.

Connect your TV and DVD

The RCA phono socket problem, mentioned above, means it may be difficult to set the system you want. Worse, there is no general solution, because it depends on the input and output on your specific product.

If you’re lucky, your DVD player will have two phono sockets that can be connected to the AV / Aux socket on your Rotel amplifier. Problem solved.

Alternatively, your TV set may have a phono socket, or at least some form of analog voice output, such as a headphone jack. In this case, you can connect the DVD player to the TV in any way – HDMI or SCART cable – and then take the audio output from the TV.

This is not a problem, as you may need to use the TV menu system to turn on the analog phono sockets and disable the built-in speakers. This should be explained in the manual. In fact, if it’s a good guide, it will explain how to connect your TV to a standard amplifier. (If you can not find it, most manuals are available online in PDF format.)

In the worst case, you can usually connect a TV set to an amplifier using a Y cable with a headphone jack on one end and two phono plugs at the other.

The geekier option is to use the SCART adapter to output audio from the DVD player. The adapter provides a video socket to connect to a TV set, and two phono sockets to connect to your Rotel amplifier.

If all else fails, the DAC or digital-to-analog converter will convert the digital signal to analog. DAC can solve certain connection problems, with suppliers like Lindy offering an impressive range of options.

Otherwise, adding a general purpose DAC is the simplest way to enable old-style amplifier to work with digital services. I discussed this as an answer in 2015: How do I improve my old hi-fi in the digital world?

Speaker Efficiency

Most loudspeakers have sensitivity ratings, expressed in decibels (dB). For example, a 88dB loudspeaker will generate 88dB of sound at a distance of one meter when powered by one watt of power.

While 88dB is loud, the loudspeaker should handle a transient peak of up to about 105dB. Music and movies can include very loud dynamic sounds for short periods, such as explosions in blockbusters like Independence Day. The problem is you need twice as much power to make the sound just 3dB harder. Powering 88dB speakers for 106dB will require 64W, and you only have 20W.

Worse, it’s a bad idea to push the amp and the speakers flat: it can cause distortion, clipping, or even equipment failure. It’s better to do 70mph in a car that can sail at 140mph than at one that reaches the limit at 50mph, and a backup power amplifier will manage the transient peak better than the pushing limit.

In practical terms, you only need half the power to move the 91dB loudspeaker, while you need twice as much power to drive the 85dB speakers.

Lower impedances mean louder sounds, so in theory you can buy a 4-ohm loudspeaker instead. However, your RA-810A is designed to handle 8-16 ohm speakers, so I do not recommend it.

Of course, life is complicated. The loudspeaker impedance can vary between 3 ohms and 24 ohms over different frequency ranges, so you might get away with a 6-8 ohm rating.

Too bad you can not remember which Tannoy speakers you have, because this will tell us the dB rating, and the level of performance you find is acceptable.

Possible speakers

My first thought for your system was a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 speakers. They are the product of 2005 Hi-Fi this year in the speaker category, when it costs £ 180. You can now get it half. Positioned close to the wall, they sounded much larger than they were.

The drawback is that they are not the best specs for your amplifier. They are 6-ohm speakers with a dB rating of just 86dB, when ideally you want 8 ohm / 90dB. However, Wharfedale Diamonds are generally easy to drive – this is one of the reasons why they’re popular – and they’re supposed to function well, if you do not push it too hard.

My other favorite for this kind of work, Q Acoustics 2020i, has a similar problem: they are 6-ohm speakers with 88dB sensitivity. At £ 129.95, I will pick it up at Wharfedales, but it would be better to hear it side by side. The 3020 version is also worth considering for £ 148.

The more technically suited is a pair of loudspeakers Audio Monitor Bronze 2 (8 ohm / 90dB). They are better than Wharfedales, especially in the bass department, but are much more expensive at £ 279. However, the Audio speakers MR2 Monitor (6 ohm / 90dB) can be an acceptable replacement at £ 125.

Surprisingly, you can also get a pair of highly efficient Acoustics 2050i speakers (92dB) Q for £ 269.99 or less, including free shipping.

There are many alternatives, and it would be worth popping into a local hi-fi store, if you have one. Mostly serve people who spend huge amounts of money, but I gladly buy a lot of stuff from Richer Sounds.

Currently, Richer Sounds has Wharfedale Diamond 2020 speakers – the Hi-fi rates above the old version of Diamond 9.1 – for £ 119, Wharfedale Diamond 9.0 for £ 49, and Q Acoustics 3010 for £ 99. All three are 86dB speakers. The loudspeaker Mission LX2 (£ 149) increased it to 87dB, but Richer Sounds sales staff may have better suggestions.

Buy second hand?

Many of the famous old hi-fi systems are being discarded by people who switch to smaller but worse-sounding systems that work wirelessly with smartphones, Spotify, and similar digital services. There are many Kef, Spendor, Celestion, Audio Monitor, Tannoy, and other speakers around. You can even see some familiar front grill.

The first drawback is that older speakers tend to be large by current standards, or – like my LS3 / 5a 82dB speaker – it’s hard to drive properly. The second is that they may have been abused, or failed as a natural result of old age. You may be able to find offers, especially if you know hi-fi fans who are willing to help. But if you shop for compact speakers for £ 49 to £ 99, it may not be worth the effort.