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Advice on next upgrade to improve music playback


nscriv

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Hi all, I'm new to this forum :)

 

I'm hoping for a wee bit of advice please on the next thing I should upgrade in my system to improve the playback quality. Currently most music sounds very lively and dynamic but the one area where things are let down is tracks that are particularly busy and fast - the soundstage seems to get a bit compressed and the articulation and space around instruments seems to get lost. Overall it can go from sounding exceptionally liquid and easy on the ears on less busy music to rather fatiguing on those type of tracks. As part of my collection I have some very high quality dynamic masters so I am ruling out it being excessive compression on the part of the mastering engineers.

 

The following is the setup I am currently using:

 

-------------

Macbook Pro Retina - running Audirvana configured for bit perfect playback --->

 

iFi micro iDSD (async USB dac) running on battery power (Micro – iDSD) -->

 

Pioneer ASX-Avi home theatre receiver. This is purportedly a reasonably powerful receiver at 150w per channel at 8 ohms. Although that is specified at that rate to 1% THD so I'm not sure what a more realistic power rating would be. Everything set on source direct so no DSP. (VSX-AX4AVi-S (Archived) - Pioneer UK) -->

 

B&W DM603 S3 floor standing speakers. These are bi-amped from the Pioneer receiver. (B&W DM603 S3 loudspeaker | Stereophile.com)

------------

 

I am leaning in the direction of the receiver being the component most likely in need of an upgrade, with speakers as the secondary candidate. I guess an option is that I use the pre-outs on the receiver to a couple of mono blocks to drive the front speakers.

 

Any thoughts or recommendations here? I'd be very grateful for the community on the forum to provide their input.

 

Nathan.

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Hi all, I'm new to this forum :)

 

I'm hoping for a wee bit of advice please on the next thing I should upgrade in my system to improve the playback quality. Currently most music sounds very lively and dynamic but the one area where things are let down is tracks that are particularly busy and fast - the soundstage seems to get a bit compressed and the articulation and space around instruments seems to get lost. Overall it can go from sounding exceptionally liquid and easy on the ears on less busy music to rather fatiguing on those type of tracks. As part of my collection I have some very high quality dynamic masters so I am ruling out it being excessive compression on the part of the mastering engineers.

 

The following is the setup I am currently using:

 

-------------

Macbook Pro Retina - running Audirvana configured for bit perfect playback --->

 

iFi micro iDSD (async USB dac) running on battery power (Micro – iDSD) -->

 

Pioneer ASX-Avi home theatre receiver. This is purportedly a reasonably powerful receiver at 150w per channel at 8 ohms. Although that is specified at that rate to 1% THD so I'm not sure what a more realistic power rating would be. Everything set on source direct so no DSP. (VSX-AX4AVi-S (Archived) - Pioneer UK) -->

 

B&W DM603 S3 floor standing speakers. These are bi-amped from the Pioneer receiver. (B&W DM603 S3 loudspeaker | Stereophile.com)

------------

 

I am leaning in the direction of the receiver being the component most likely in need of an upgrade, with speakers as the secondary candidate. I guess an option is that I use the pre-outs on the receiver to a couple of mono blocks to drive the front speakers.

 

Any thoughts or recommendations here? I'd be very grateful for the community on the forum to provide their input.

 

Nathan.

 

The speakers seem like the weak link in your system to me. Certainly capable in their day and still ok in a number of ways I feel like if you spent some money on that most crucial component of your system you'd get the most satisfying improvement.

David

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Hi all, I'm new to this forum :)

 

I'm hoping for a wee bit of advice please on the next thing I should upgrade in my system to improve the playback quality. Currently most music sounds very lively and dynamic but the one area where things are let down is tracks that are particularly busy and fast - the soundstage seems to get a bit compressed and the articulation and space around instruments seems to get lost. Overall it can go from sounding exceptionally liquid and easy on the ears on less busy music to rather fatiguing on those type of tracks. As part of my collection I have some very high quality dynamic masters so I am ruling out it being excessive compression on the part of the mastering engineers.

 

The following is the setup I am currently using:

 

-------------

Macbook Pro Retina - running Audirvana configured for bit perfect playback --->

 

iFi micro iDSD (async USB dac) running on battery power (Micro – iDSD) -->

 

Pioneer ASX-Avi home theatre receiver. This is purportedly a reasonably powerful receiver at 150w per channel at 8 ohms. Although that is specified at that rate to 1% THD so I'm not sure what a more realistic power rating would be. Everything set on source direct so no DSP. (VSX-AX4AVi-S (Archived) - Pioneer UK) -->

 

B&W DM603 S3 floor standing speakers. These are bi-amped from the Pioneer receiver. (B&W DM603 S3 loudspeaker | Stereophile.com)

------------

 

......

 

Nathan.

 

These can be symptoms of a compromise in the electronics, either DAC or amplification... parallels what I hear comparing the DAC section of the Oppo 103 to the better Metrum Octave DAC. I don't hear what you are describing using an iFI Nano DSD, that's more of an absence of sophistcated detail, loud passages are crystal clear. So I would lean towards upgrading the amplification. The Absolute Sound integrated amp recommendations are a good starting point, they will keep you away from midfi mistakes, but you are talking a starting point in the $2~3k range

 

Speakers IMHO are a personal bias and like finding a significant other, more a matter of chemistry than cold analysis for the right match. They would be the last thing in your setup that I would find fault in.

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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Have you tried using the iFi as a USB to SPDIF converter and letting the DACs in the receiver decode? Then configure room correction and try DSP. If the DSP doesn't solve your issue then you can likely rule out room correction and look for speakers or amps. At least try this before spending money.

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Have you tried using the iFi as a USB to SPDIF converter and letting the DACs in the receiver decode? Then configure room correction and try DSP. If the DSP doesn't solve your issue then you can likely rule out room correction and look for speakers or amps. At least try this before spending money.

 

Hey thanks for your input, and thanks to the people above. To answer that question, the SPDIF input and all DSP and room correction functions make the output sound significantly worse to my ears. All of those squash all the life and musicality out of the output and add significant extra distortion.

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Hi Nathan,

 

You describe some of the components but not the setup.

My suggest is before spending a dime, make sure the setup is optimized first.

 

As I often say with regard to speaker placement, every foot from the wall adds (at least) $1000 to the sound. ;-}

Here is an article on the subject which I hope is of some interest and of some help.

 

Also, I fully agree about dsp "room correction". I've heard many systems claiming to do this and invariably, to my ears, they leave the room un-corrected but do significantly degrade speaker performance. Changing the speakers will not fix the room any more than changing a hat will fix a broken arm. There is no substitute for proper set up.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

The Soundkeeper | Audio, Music, Recording, Playback

Barry Diament Audio

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Hi Nathan,

 

You describe some of the components but not the setup.

My suggest is before spending a dime, make sure the setup is optimized first.

 

As I often say with regard to speaker placement, every foot from the wall adds (at least) $1000 to the sound. ;-}

Here is an article on the subject which I hope is of some interest and of some help.

 

Also, I fully agree about dsp "room correction". I've heard many systems claiming to do this and invariably, to my ears, they leave the room un-corrected but do significantly degrade speaker performance. Changing the speakers will not fix the room any more than changing a hat will fix a broken arm. There is no substitute for proper set up.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

The Soundkeeper | Audio, Music, Recording, Playback

Barry Diament Audio

 

Thanks, I guess what that is pointing to is that the issues could be due to smearing from reflections, busier/faster music is going to be filling the room with more sound energy so more likely to make these issues apparent? So I will experiment with speaker placement to see if it makes a difference. Unfortunately if room issues and/or speaker placement are causing this then I'm stuffed as there is limited space in the room (8.6 feet wide by 9.7 feet long) and I can't move the speakers (permanently) from where they are at the moment. As it's a living room not a studio so somebody else in the household might have a thing or two to say haha.

 

Having said that I've heard this type of effect before with a much cheaper entry level set of speakers and ht receiver (although much more pronounced) -- so I still suspect I am hearing either amplifier or speaker distortion.

 

Thanks!

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IMHO the weakest link in your chain is the home theatre receiver.

 

the NAD D3020 is inexpensive and very good if you don't drive it too hard. Your room is small and you speakers are quite efficient so it should be no problem. Here is a review from a Dutch magazine who even used it to drive a pair of Magico speakers !

Review NAD D 3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier

 

The second upgrade is HQ Player. You can use HQ Player to convert 16/44 to DSD256 to feed your ifimicroDSD.

 

note the internal DAC in the D3020 is very susceptible to USB noise, but that would not be a problem for you as you would be connecting your ifimicroDSD to the analog inputs

 

let us know how your exploration goes :-)

Sound Test, Monaco

Consultant to Sound Galleries Monaco, and Taiko Audio Holland

e-mail [email protected]

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IMHO the weakest link in your chain is the home theatre receiver.

 

the NAD D3020 is inexpensive and very good if you don't drive it too hard. Your room is small and you speakers are quite efficient so it should be no problem. Here is a review from a Dutch magazine who even used it to drive a pair of Magico speakers !

Review NAD D 3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier

 

The second upgrade is HQ Player. You can use HQ Player to convert 16/44 to DSD256 to feed your ifimicroDSD.

 

note the internal DAC in the D3020 is very susceptible to USB noise, but that would not be a problem for you as you would be connecting your ifimicroDSD to the analog inputs

 

let us know how your exploration goes :-)

 

Interesting comments ... I wonder if I can get a Nad D3020 on loan from a local hifi store??? Can it really be true that the sound from a device rated at 2 x 30w will be better than my AVR which is rated to 150w x 7 channels but with only 2 channels being driven? I'm open minded with a small touch of curious scepticism :)

 

As for the up-sampling, I prefer the sound of the iFi micro iDSD playing natively. I've experimented a bit with that and feel that the conversion process degrades the sound. Even 16 bit 44khz is best left untouched. This is different to my previous experiences with up sampling and a testament to the quality of the iFi micro.

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As for the up-sampling, I prefer the sound of the iFi micro iDSD playing natively. I've experimented a bit with that and feel that the conversion process degrades the sound. Even 16 bit 44khz is best left untouched. This is different to my previous experiences with up sampling and a testament to the quality of the iFi micro.

 

which software have you experimented with ?

 

HQ Player has a large number of filters and modulators to choose from. The best sounding ones are pretty computationally intensive and need a Quadcore processor with a clock speed of more than 3GHz. Some of the less computationally intensive filters (Polysinc - 2s) are still very good sounding. Quite a few CA members have tried HQP, Foobar + SACD and JRMC 19/20 for 16/44 > DSD 128 and 256 and find HQP the best sounding. People's favorite modulator choice varies quite a bit and seems to be somewhat music specific and individual taste

 

Which country are you in ?

Sound Test, Monaco

Consultant to Sound Galleries Monaco, and Taiko Audio Holland

e-mail [email protected]

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which software have you experimented with ?

 

HQ Player has a large number of filters and modulators to choose from. The best sounding ones are pretty computationally intensive and need a Quadcore processor with a clock speed of more than 3GHz. Some of the less computationally intensive filters (Polysinc - 2s) are still very good sounding. Quite a few CA members have tried HQP, Foobar + SACD and JRMC 19/20 for 16/44 > DSD 128 and 256 and find HQP the best sounding. People's favorite modulator choice varies quite a bit and seems to be somewhat music specific and individual taste

 

Which country are you in ?

 

Have you heard the iFi Micro iDSD? A lot of other people have commented that up sampling is un-necessary with that DAC and that things sound best left untouched. That has been my experience so far. I did try up sampling PCM to 2xDXD with SoX resampler in Foobar and wasn't impressed. The same resampler on my HTPC with a customised Auzentech X-Meridian definitely improves the sound.

 

I'm based in New Zealand :)

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Have you heard the iFi Micro iDSD? A lot of other people have commented that up sampling is un-necessary with that DAC and that things sound best left untouched. That has been my experience so far. I did try up sampling PCM to 2xDXD with SoX resampler in Foobar and wasn't impressed. The same resampler on my HTPC with a customised Auzentech X-Meridian definitely improves the sound.

 

I'm based in New Zealand :)

 

i have not heard the microDSD, only have friends with the nanoDSD.

 

Give HQ Player a try, you might be pleasantly surprised. I suspect the free SACD plugin for Foobar may be noticeably better than the SoX resampler, and there is no learning curve for you to try

;-)

 

SACD plugin is pretty good, but not as good as HQP which does cost Euro 150, but has a 30 day free trial

Sound Test, Monaco

Consultant to Sound Galleries Monaco, and Taiko Audio Holland

e-mail [email protected]

Link to comment
Hi Nathan,

 

You describe some of the components but not the setup.

My suggest is before spending a dime, make sure the setup is optimized first.

 

As I often say with regard to speaker placement, every foot from the wall adds (at least) $1000 to the sound. ;-}

Here is an article on the subject which I hope is of some interest and of some help.

 

Also, I fully agree about dsp "room correction". I've heard many systems claiming to do this and invariably, to my ears, they leave the room un-corrected but do significantly degrade speaker performance. Changing the speakers will not fix the room any more than changing a hat will fix a broken arm. There is no substitute for proper set up.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

The Soundkeeper | Audio, Music, Recording, Playback

Barry Diament Audio

 

Hi Barry,

 

Thanks for the link to your article. which as usual I found informative and helpful.

 

Your constant desire to educate and assist others never ceases to amaze me and you contributions are one of the reasons I try to visit this site daily. I have not forgotten to listen to the different PCM format files you sent me as I am still waiting to assemble my system again when I eventually find a new home.

 

To the OP can I suggest you follow Barry's advice and first check that your equipment is properly set up before you spend any money. Many here at CA have had a lot of success with Audirvana + so please check their web site to ensure that it is properly configured and that you have correctly set up your computer for bit perfect playback. Then look at speaker placement (the BMW 603s are old but good speakers) and then room treatment as suggested in Barry's article.

 

If you are still not happy then I would upgrade the amp. I believe you are simply expecting too much from a receiver that has so many functions to fulfil. Commonness suggests a purpose built 2 channel amp made solely for stereo playback must outperform and all singing, all dancing, receiver for the same price.

 

Check out the recent CA thread that is dedicated to looking at suggestions for alternative integrated amps (search for it .. it was started by Kimo) - there are some very good amps listed that aren't over the top price wise. I think the NAD mentioned above is a very good unit but it has a built in DAC that would become superfolous (again trying to be all things to all people) as I understand from other CA members the iFi DAC range is quite good.

 

Stereophile said this about your BMW speakers:

 

"The speaker's impedance plot (fig.1), however, indicates that it is a moderately difficult load, at least at very high frequencies, where the magnitude drops to 3.1 ohms at 15kHz."

 

i.e. they need a good amp. Suggest you google the review and read it all, it is quite complementary of your speakers.

 

Good Luck.

LOUNGE: Mac Mini - Audirvana - Devialet 200 - ATOHM GT1 Speakers

OFFICE : Mac Mini - Audirvana - Benchmark DAC1HDR - ADAM A7 Active Monitors

TRAVEL : MacBook Air - Dragonfly V1.2 DAC - Sennheiser HD 650

BEACH : iPhone 6 - HRT iStreamer DAC - Akimate Micro + powered speakers

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