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You might call this a test to see how many of us can play by a set of rules. I'd really like to see if we can put together a recommendation of things people might try to improve the quality of their listening experience. For example things I might put on such a list to TRY (in no particular order of importance):

 

1) vibration reduction for speakers and electronic equipment

2) cable dressing to avoid running signal in parallel to power cables

3) upsampling through iZotope (in Audirvana) or through HQ Player to match the natural sampling rate of your DAC

4) if you have fully balanced equipment try balanced instead of single-ended cables

5) ...

 

NOW, TO THE RULES:

 

1) When you post, you may add one or more suggested upgrades or ideas to try

2) you may not negatively comment upon, correct or disagree with someone else's suggestions

3) If you strongly think a suggestion is wrong, send me a PM and if I get enough "it's just wrong" PM's on the same suggestion, I will note that "X users have disagreed with Post #X"

 

I'd prefer to receive no negative votes. Instead, my hope for this thread is that it just becomes a repository for upgrading/improvement ideas. Some might be bad ideas, but I would hope that people only post those things that have had a positive effect on their own system. They may not work for all of us or even most of us, but it would be great to have a comprehensive list of things to try.

Synology NAS>i7-6700/32GB/NVIDIA QUADRO P4000 Win10>Qobuz+Tidal>Roon>HQPlayer>DSD512> Fiber Switch>Ultrarendu (NAA)>Holo Audio May KTE DAC> Bryston SP3 pre>Levinson No. 432 amps>Magnepan (MG20.1x2, CCR and MMC2x6)

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Great idea for a thread!

 

I think the things that seem to work the best - for me - are:

 

1. Pick speakers you love and build the system around them. I love Maggies the most, followed by sealed boxes based upon the BBC Monitors, and Advents.

 

2. Once you have components you are comfortable with, isolate them from ground born vibrations using something like Barry Diamant's HipJoints. It may look a little silly, but the sound seems to pay off.

 

3. Clean up the power going into the system, and isolate each component from the other as much as possible.

 

4. Use only the minimum number of components; put storage for your music files in a closest somewhere. With automatic backups.

 

5. When the inevitable urge to upgrade and play around strikes, make the smallest changes you can, and be prepared to unmake them.

 

6. Buy gear with at least a 30 day MBG. Sometimes even the very best gear isn't pleasing to your ear.

 

7. Resolve to enjoy the system and have fun! There are too darn many mean people who would love to pick at you on the internet no matter what. :)

 

#7 above is particularly important if you like talking about our hobby with other hobbyists. Remember, YMMV is not only possible, it is the most likely outcome of all.

 

I think that fits within the rules...;)

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Tame the room, either with treatments or DSP.

Analog: Koetsu Rosewood > VPI Aries 3 w/SDS > EAR 834P > EAR 834L: Audiodesk cleaner

Digital Fun: DAS > CAPS v3 w/LPS (JRMC) SOtM USB > Lynx Hilo > EAR 834L

Digital Serious: DAS > CAPS v3 w/LPS (HQPlayer) Ethernet > SMS-100 NAA > Lampi DSD L4 G5 > EAR 834L

Digital Disc: Oppo BDP 95 > EAR 834L

Output: EAR 834L > Xilica XP4080 DSP > Odessey Stratos Mono Extreme > Legacy Aeris

Phones: EAR 834L > Little Dot Mk ii > Senheiser HD 800

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Two more:

 

1) Test drive Dirac's room correction software. Personally, I didn't love the result, but it was a very useful exercise (did take some time and effort, but the trial is free), and it seems lots of folks here do very much like the results they are getting.

 

2) Try the UpTone Regen. We might not fully understand what it does, but my own results bear up what others have subsequently reported on -- that it significantly tightens up the bass response. I think there are other benefits, but there seems to be less agreement on exactly what those are.

Synology NAS>i7-6700/32GB/NVIDIA QUADRO P4000 Win10>Qobuz+Tidal>Roon>HQPlayer>DSD512> Fiber Switch>Ultrarendu (NAA)>Holo Audio May KTE DAC> Bryston SP3 pre>Levinson No. 432 amps>Magnepan (MG20.1x2, CCR and MMC2x6)

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I have written quite a big list of great things to try for the 'best bang for the buck thread'. I think it my need a blog entry sometime.

Dedicated Line DSD/DXD | Audirvana+ | iFi iDSD Nano | SET Tube Amp | Totem Mites

Surround: VLC | M-Audio FastTrack Pro | Mac Opt | Panasonic SA-HE100 | Logitech Z623

DIY: SET Tube Amp | Low-Noise Linear Regulated Power Supply | USB, Power, Speaker Cables | Speaker Stands | Acoustic Panels

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I have written quite a big list of great things to try for the 'best bang for the buck thread'. I think it my need a blog entry sometime.

 

I hope you don't mind my adding some of the key pieces from it here (as I suspect some will be too lazy to click through to the other thread and you have a pretty exhaustive list):

 

2. Room diagnosis with R.E.W.

 

This is free as well with just a forum registration, and you can't really hear your gear until you have tamed your room response, so it's a good first thing to do. So if you think you're getting great sound but haven't yet done that, you may be surprised when you come to it and in the meantime, you aren't yet hearing your system.

 

3. Acoustic Room treatment with DIY acoustic panels and bass traps.

 

Not very expensive: looked for glass fiber/wool at the hardware store (they were already cut in useable panel sizes), and a suitable textile material from curtains. Also took some rolled up glass/fiber material that I placed in the corners of the room for bass standing wave trapping. I recommend doing the organic, acoustic treatment and solely this if you can. The goal isn't to make your room completely dead, but tame the biggest peaks and troughs of the room response. It's only in case of very stubborn or difficult to tame peaks and troughs that you can consider DSD for room treatment as this also has its own sonic signature and will colour the sound to some extent. People who head for the easy DSP EQ right away aren't getting as good results than those with a more natural/organic treatment process.

 

4. Building stands for my Studio Monitors.

 

This allowed me to move the monitors off the desktop (which was vibrating with music) to the stands, and hence dissipate any remaining cabinet vibration down to the stand. Very, very large improvement in sound definition, more clarity in the high frequency range. I since obtained Totem Mite bookshelf speakers which are now on the stands with fantastic results.

 

Bookshelf speakers on stands is one of the best things you can do, rather than get huge speakers with a lot of cabinet resonance (Vivid might be one of the rare exceptions, Dickie was working in sound reinforcement before doing speakers, so he brought a lot of his expertise from there to speakers). In other words, don't think that 'bookshelf' means you have to put them in yours - that's the worst you could do. Instead, build or buy stands for them.

 

5. Trying DSD

 

That has made a tremendous different for me, with regards to 1 (a) above, even when I was merely listening with Audirvana -> PCM soundcard.

 

6. Researching and trying audiophile players, and getting Audirvana+ for playback instead of iTunes.

 

Damien is clever and on top of that, has a great ear for good sound. Doing this is paradigm-shifting.

 

7. Researching about DSD vs PCM and getting a native DSD128 DAC, the iFi iDSD Nano

 

Finally, native DSD at home for around $200, and a huge, huge sound that is worth 10+ times more that it goes for! Total game-changer by Thorsten's team at AMR/iFi - it changed the industry.

 

8. Studying what these guys came up with: John Swenson, Thorsten Loesch, Bruno Putzeys, Dieter (Trinity DAC), Lukasz Fikus (Lampizator), Jon Risch, Miska, Hiroyuki Yokota, PeterSt, sbgk, Damien Plisson, Caelin Gabriel, Charles Hansen, Ted Smith, David Berning, Townshend, del Sordo, Tony Lauck, Kimura, Kusunoki, Lawrence Dickie, George at Tubelabs, Y.N. (cPlay), and many more.

 

Paying attention to credible people in this forum on top of those already mentioned, like Chris, Jud, Superbad Alex, Sandyk Alex (you may find some of his claims outlandish, but once you step in the realm of Yokota as well as the DRAM thread and do some tests, they aren't at all), EuroDriver, Geoffrey Armstrong, jabbr, tranz, etc... The people who know what they're talking about, have actually tested things and freely share information for the greater enjoyment of the community and this is info you can use to test things yourself. Just Superbad Alex and John S. have made tons of free contributions that are worth several times their new product price IMO.

 

9. Critical listening sessions for comparisons between:

 

- lossy and lossless

- lossless compressed vs uncompressed

- PCM and DSD

- lower-rate DSD vs higher rate DSD

- different HQ Player setups (computer to DAC direct vs client-server mode, different filter and modulators)

- realtime PCM-to-DSD vs offline up-conversion

- different DAC filter settings

- different Audirvana+ filter settings (esp. regarding phase)

- different Audirvana up-sampling settings (Redbook to DXD, no over-sampling, power of 2, etc...)

- FLAC/ALAC vs WAV

- Solid State amplification vs Tube amplification

- Generic USB cable vs DIY USB cable

- Default power cable vs DIY power cable

- Default equipment support vs DIY equipment vibration isolation

- Default room response vs DIY room treatment response

- Default AC power vs DIY AC filtered power

- Default equipment system connection vs DIY System Chassis Grounding

- Default equipment system connection vs DIY Signal cleanup (some say 'Grounding' here, but it isn't that in reality)

 

This costs just time, but is crucial in honing my listening skills as well as filtering out what works from what doesn't (while the others are wasting time debating double blind, blind, measurements, ABX, etc... which only matter if the effects are too close to discern convincingly and if you're trying to prove something for science), give me a good reference for tweaks/changes, makes me know my system inside out and finally allowed to find the sweet spot of my system. The sweet spot is DSD128 and above. Hence:

 

10. Re-ripping and/or converting all my library in uncompressed (AIFF)

 

Best foundation for high-quality reproduction (you could choose WAV on a non Apple system too).

 

11. Up-conversion of my tracks to DSD128 for critical listening and musicophilia

 

This is sublime. If you think about it, I am doing a smaller version (with less features and a few different steps missing) of what the PS Audio DirectStream does with PCM.

 

12. Taming Equipment vibration:

 

This, with Room Acoustic and Room treatment is a fundamental issue you need to take care of, and here, it's not just vibration from outside into your equipment, but also vibration internal to the equipment, and from equipment to another as well.

 

13. AC filtering, isolation, conditioning, linear power, balanced power

 

[NB: safety first if you tinker with this yourself] This is a third (not necessarily in that order) fundamental issue you need to take care of. Not only can noise enter your system from outside, but it can also be from inside in two ways: other non-audio equipment, but indeed, shockingly (ah ah ah) from your own audio equipment. With my DIY AC filter box this brought a lot of presence, clarity and detection of 'new' sounds and performances from albums I know very well.

 

READ JOHN SWENSON.

 

14. Grounding, eliminating Ground Loops

 

This is also fundamental and you won't know what you're missing until you do this properly. Here again, do not listen to nay-sayers who tell you it shouldn't work or how this is supposed to work: the reality is that in heterogeneous systems you are likely to end up with (many different manufactures and cable constructions and different grounding schemes, coupled with dirty AC power), there are a lot of issues. By all means, check the related thread (it's the same as the AC one), and read about the Tripoint Troy devices, as well as the Entreq Tellus ones and what they do and the results people are getting with them then go and do the same. Many learned people will give you an incomplete or outdated theoretical model of how things should work here. They are WRONG, as they forget to include the modern situation of being surrounded by cellular EMI/RFI. In fact, many just ignore the issues surrounding EMI/RFI completely when it comes to computer audiophilia (and cables...).

 

Read everything you can get about Electromagnetic Compatibility. In particular, read everything from Ott, Morrison, Keith Armstrong, Jim Brown, Neil Muncy, Bill Whitlock, Philip Giddings. Apart from Ott, Morrison, and Giddings, many of these references came from Speedskater, but who gets the basics wrong when he forgets to add that currents want to loop back to their source distributed preferentially through lowest impedance paths. Additionally, IMO he also gets it wrong when he talks about 'at these low frequencies it doesn't matter' where I specifically talked of high frequencies and make no assumption on their source.

 

Read, then go and do it, or if you can, just go do it. The results are immense: tall soundstage, clarity, presence, much of what you get with cleaner AC power.

 

15. DIY USB cable

 

This was mind-blowing: I didn't expect any results at all here, and in fact expected the worse: drop-outs or total disconnection or no detection of the DAC.

 

My cable sounds stellar. This proved to me that a 'digital' cable can have a bearing on SQ. The difference is big especially when it comes to attack transients, soundstage, reverb tails, dynamics. This cable makes you want to get up and dance. It isn't the kind of difference that is close so as to make you even think 'it's close I should perhaps do a DBT'. It is a 'night-and-day' difference. This is all about shielding and geometry. I have posted the design on a thread somewhere here. Doesn't cost more than some time, some shielding and a normal USB cable as donor.

 

16. DIY Power Cable

 

If there was a second thing expected to make no difference just like 'digital' cables, it sure was power cords. So, I jumped in and built my own power cable for the amplifier. Right, right, here's another myth busted from the get-go: I have a much larger detailed audio range now with my DIY power cable. Here, it's about shielding again, but also using solid-core wire. Very low-cost but high return!

 

17. DIY Single-Ended Triode Tube Amps

 

While researching Tube amps for my build, I settled for the Single-Ended Triode architecture which isn't perfect technically but is revered for SQ. Further research and study brought me to the Tubelab section on diyaudio, and to George's website. I liked what he wrote and his methodology, ordered the PCB (looks stunning), researched transformers and ordered 3 large Edcor ones, researched Tubes and got a whole Russian set (Electro-Harmonix KT-88 and others). It sounds sublime, totally beats my SS amp when it comes to fast attack transients. Needless to say what this does to: soundstage, presence, rhythm/timing, etc...

 

The cost here was mainly in the transformers, the other parts do not cost a lot, even the tubes aren't that expensive. In all, it probably cost me in the range of $300-375.

 

18. Learning about the inner workings of computer audiophile setups and the preponderance of gray areas and EMI/RMI

 

The DRAM bit-flipping thread and the papers I researched with as well as the great ensuing conversations with John Swenson, Miska, PeterSt, and sbgk had a lot to do with furthering my knowledge of what really happening in digital land. Digital land has a lot of gray areas which have a lot to do in reality with analogue phenomena and the issues with them. The gray areas are related to A/D and D/A and the EMI/RFI of digital equipment along the processing chain. It's near the little magnets in HDDs, around the caps in your DRAM, the analogue signals in your USB cable, in the memory pathway you use in your audio software...

Synology NAS>i7-6700/32GB/NVIDIA QUADRO P4000 Win10>Qobuz+Tidal>Roon>HQPlayer>DSD512> Fiber Switch>Ultrarendu (NAA)>Holo Audio May KTE DAC> Bryston SP3 pre>Levinson No. 432 amps>Magnepan (MG20.1x2, CCR and MMC2x6)

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I hope you don't mind my adding some of the key pieces from it here

 

No prob at all.

Dedicated Line DSD/DXD | Audirvana+ | iFi iDSD Nano | SET Tube Amp | Totem Mites

Surround: VLC | M-Audio FastTrack Pro | Mac Opt | Panasonic SA-HE100 | Logitech Z623

DIY: SET Tube Amp | Low-Noise Linear Regulated Power Supply | USB, Power, Speaker Cables | Speaker Stands | Acoustic Panels

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The things I've yet to try:

 

Core Mode

Dual PC

For lack of a better term, outboard power supplies for Regen, USB card (not installed), and SSD

 

Things I've done:

Room treatments (DIY)

Equipment isolation - Barry D method (bike tire, roller bearings)

Upgraded AC outlet (PS Audio unit)

Removing all noise from listening room, relocated PC behind a wall, noise floor is currently 16 dB

Ryzen 3900x Roon Core PC -> Intel i9900k HQPlayer W10 machine -> iFi Zen Stream NAA

Holo May KTE, Benchmark LA4 preamp

SMC Audio upgraded DNA-125 Amp

Dynaudio Confidence C2 Platinum speakers

Vinyl rig - Schiit Sol, Nagaoka MP-500, Mod Squad PhonoDrive phono stage

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Have a weekly "date night" with music. Spend at least an hour a week listening to complete tracks without interruption, adjustment, or even getting out of your seat. Keep dated notes on your thoughts & observations after each piece. Repeat the same pieces in different sequence to compare, but not before at least a month has elapsed and not all at the same session. Mix it up over months. Like seeing the same movie again, it's amazing what you missed the last time and what you learn.

 

If you really want to tune yourself, add personal data to the notes, from what you ate to how your day went & what you did to how you feel physically - tired? Bored? Etc. It all affects how you hear & how you listen, and some "variance" occurs despite not changing anything in your system.

 

Optimize how & when you listen per your findings.

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Have a weekly "date night" with music. Spend at least an hour a week listening to complete tracks without interruption, adjustment, or even getting out of your seat. Keep dated notes on your thoughts & observations after each piece. Repeat the same pieces in different sequence to compare, but not before at least a month has elapsed and not all at the same session. Mix it up over months. Like seeing the same movie again, it's amazing what you missed the last time and what you learn.

 

If you really want to tune yourself, add personal data to the notes, from what you ate to how your day went & what you did to how you feel physically - tired? Bored? Etc. It all affects how you hear & how you listen, and some "variance" occurs despite not changing anything in your system.

 

Optimize how & when you listen per your findings.

 

Ah- Bravo Zulu!

 

I was not brave enough to admit that I keep a journal, usually noting what I am listening to, and often making notes about equipment or other little things I notice. Usually things that take me "out if the music." Sometimes things that put me "into" the music though.

 

I am pretty good about keeping journals about hobbies I am serious about. Elsewise I am liable to forget something I already learned! :)

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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