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Equipment hierarchy - what's the best upgrade path?


OldBigEars
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I'm sure this is a perennial question....I'm trying to determine which part of my system is the 'weakest link' and would provide the best improvement / cost if I upgraded it?...At some point I may well take a quiet mid-week day and take my entire system to a friendly dealer to try different equipment combinations, but until then I would be interested in opinions and help on this.

 

My present system is as follows:

Source: I mainly play DSD124 through a Resonessence Concero HD (connected to my MBP by Audioquest Cinnamon 3m USB)

Amplifier: Rega Elex-R integrated

Speakers: Lovely 20 year old Linn Keiligh's with the upgraded tweeters

 

My musical taste includes a wide range of jazz, blues, acoustic singer-songwriter, indie and classic rock.

 

In general my system often sounds stunningly good, especially well-recorded jazz and singer-songwriter material. But it's less impressive on dynamic rock albums, although I suspect this could be attributable to poor recording quality. Or simply that (even) my system exposes the musicianship limitations of some artists.

 

In spite of all this, I'm considering my future upgrade path and just can't figure out the best way forward. I could probably make an argument for upgrading each of the above items but am not sure which would make the most worthwhile difference.

 

Some of the ideas I've thought about...

- upgrading the USB connection with Curious Cables / Intona

- replacing the Concero with a Mytec Brooklyn

- changing the amp....maybe to a Sonneteer or LFD

- love the idea of Proac or PMC speakers....but this is the biggest upgrade cost

 

As you can see, I'm "all over the place" on this topic and could use your thoughts :-)

Tidal / Qobuz--> Roon--> Fios Gigabit--> Netgear Prosafe GS105 --> Supra 8-->EtherRegen --> Fiber--> opticalRendu / CI Audio LPS --> Curious Evolved Link --> Chord Qutest--> AQ Water --> Belles Aria Integrated--> AQ Robin Hood--> Kudos Super 20's

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First thing i would do, assuming it isn't already done, is make sure your speakers are properly positioned. The second thing i would look at would be room treatment. IMO these two things will easily make a bigger difference than anything else you can do.

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First thing i would do, assuming it isn't already done, is make sure your speakers are properly positioned. The second thing i would look at would be room treatment. IMO these two things will easily make a bigger difference than anything else you can do.

 

Thanks KRK, good to start with these points. I think I'm in good shape here, but I do intend to upgrade the builder-grade power outlet - I've read that this can make a surprising difference.

Tidal / Qobuz--> Roon--> Fios Gigabit--> Netgear Prosafe GS105 --> Supra 8-->EtherRegen --> Fiber--> opticalRendu / CI Audio LPS --> Curious Evolved Link --> Chord Qutest--> AQ Water --> Belles Aria Integrated--> AQ Robin Hood--> Kudos Super 20's

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I suggest that you take all that you read with a pinch of salt (or in some cases a whole bag).

 

Instead, educate yourself on how to listen, learn a bit of the hows and whys and try to create an auditory database of what's possible to achieve in audio reproduction by visiting dealers, audio shows and enthusiast bake-offs.

Assessing performance requires listening.

 

R

"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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I am of the firm belief that the listening environment is as important as the gear. I work in studios and have been to some with appalling acoustics. I would start with speakers and work backwards. Finding an amp and preamp that compliment the speakers you have decided on.

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Ensure you know how to listen for attack transients, soundstage, presence, dynamics rather than frequency-based perception. Make a personal little DB of test music.

 

Then work on these three things first:

 

1. Clean power and proper grounding

 

2. Room diagnosis and organic acoustic treatment (you can use the free REW and a good microphone - buy or borrow)

 

3. Vibration control and isolation, esp. when coupled with #1

 

Then you'll be in a much better position to hear your gear and changes in your gear.

 

Gear-wise:

 

- you could try a Corning optical USB cable rather than the analogue cables.

 

- try something radical like using a Single-Ended Triode amp (low-wattage) but with high-efficiency speakers, even open-baffle ones if you can (94dB would be a minimum here)

 

- Try HQ Player in client-server mode (using a main computer and a smaller device like a Beaglebone Black as NAA). If you go this route, you can also try optical fibre as well as powering the media converters with linear power supplies

 

- If you have the budget, something like the Sonore uRendu is very interesting

 

- Favour balanced gear rather than the flawed single-ended RCA interconnects.

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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Thanks KRK, good to start with these points. I think I'm in good shape here, but I do intend to upgrade the builder-grade power outlet - I've read that this can make a surprising difference.

I'd reiterate what krk4201 said... There are very few people who have squeezed the max out of their setups in this regard... Changing an outlets is much more marginal.

mini+Roon > dCS Rossini DAC + Rossini Master Clock 

SME 20/3 + SME V + Dynavector XV-1s > vdH The Grail

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo G2

system pics

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Some good advice all round - my first suggestion would be to sort out your power with a dedicated power line for your music system. This alone will ensure that whatever you buy will sing to it's full potential.

 

I just picked up the Job INT Integrated which is an online direct brand from Goldmund, Switzerland. Do not be fooled by the low rent website - this is a legit Goldmund circuit made in the same premises in Geneva by the same techs as the main brand. For $1,699 you get an Integrated amp + DAC that will drive your speakers to perfection.

 

6moons Review: 6moons audioreviews: Job Sys INTegrated Amp

 

I've been listening to this amp in my room for just over a month now and I am amazed at the sound. I just can't fault the amp for anything against my separates which were quite well regarded.

 

Regards.

Win10 Transport + Fidelizer 8.7 + JRMC 28 & HQPlayer | Mutec MC-3+ Smart Clock USB |  Job INT | Green Mountain Audio Eos HX

 

 

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Room and speaker set up, speakers at least 3 feet from any wall, more is usually better. Make sure there are atleast 4 feet or more to the the wall behind you, and that you don't have a giant headrest that's reflective right behind your ears. Then upgrade those speakers. Everything else -whatever floats your boat. This all sounds basic to most here but I see it all the time.

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First thing i would do, assuming it isn't already done, is make sure your speakers are properly positioned. The second thing i would look at would be room treatment. IMO these two things will easily make a bigger difference than anything else you can do.

 

same

Roon / audio-linux / dual PC / I2s FGPA Dac / analog tube processor / analog tube crossover / active speakers / dual subs / absorption+massive diffusion / ugly cat in the room

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Your setup is very nice.

But, in my own experience Rega amps create at veil at the preamp stage.

 

After the previous recommendations: room, loudspkeaker position, etc..maximizing your current setup...

 

I would try an integrated with a more transparent volume control.

In case you have an opportunity, look for the amazing Crayon, for example.

HOME - Crayon-Audio

 

http://www.monoandstereo.com/2015/11/crayon-audio-cia-1-integrated-amplifier_30.html?m=1

They have excellent control and their volume control is very very good.

 

Another upgrade not so hard would be to remove the pc as a direct link to the dac.

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Interesting: from the pictures of it, there are three or four easy tweaks you could do to it.

 

Look for the Gustard X-20 tweak thread over at WBF.

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 like the Keilidhs (see my profile :-) ) but they are power hungry. Increasing the watts by adding a 2250 was the biggest improvement to my system that I have done. You should be able to borrow an amp from your shop and see if more watts helps. Make sure the amperage/wattage is available at 4 ohms which is nominal for the Keilidhs.

QNAP TS453Pro w/QLMS->Netgear Switch->Netgear R7800 Router->Ethernet (50 ft)->Netgear switch->SBT->iFi xDSD->Linn Majik-IL (preamp)->Linn 2250->Linn Keilidh; Control Points: Squeeze Commander (DroidX) & iPeng (iPad Air); Also: Rega P3-24 w/ DV 10x5; OPPO 103; PC Playback: Foobar2000 & JRiver; Portable: Sony NWZ_ZX1 & ZX2 w/ PHA-3; SMSL IQ, Fiio Q5, iFi Nano iDSD BL; Garage: Edifier S1000DB Active Speakers  Wish List: New DAC,  SBT replacement; Dream system: Linn EXACT or ATC Active or Big Tubes (KR or Nagra or Shindo or ...)

 

My goal is to use appliances and take home PC out of the chain...

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I've always agreed with the Linn philosophy... you can't fix whats broken/missing upstream. Having a great source means most chance of success. Pursuing digital source/DAC improvement will reduce listening fatigue, improve hard percussion sounds, increase transient detail and give you better deep bass tone color. Beyond source life gets much more complex because of amp/pre/speaker electrical interaction. ( and $$$)

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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Thanks for everyone's input. Appreciate the tips from one or two of you about "improving my listening skills..." lol. To some extent, I recognize there is a "skill" to audio appreciation but quite frankly, all I can say to that point is that music has been my life for the past 50 years (playing and listening). I tend to trust my ears and capacity to simply enjoy what I hear - or not - without undue over-analysis. Sorry if this sounds overly defensive - certainly no offense intended. On the subject of room acoustics - this is not a variable for me. On the equipment side, I tend to concur with the traditional British school of thought which suggests addressing the source before changing out the amp/speaker combo. However, I'm going to try and lug my gear to a friendly dealer and will spend a day playing with permutations. I'll let you know how it goes :-)

Tidal / Qobuz--> Roon--> Fios Gigabit--> Netgear Prosafe GS105 --> Supra 8-->EtherRegen --> Fiber--> opticalRendu / CI Audio LPS --> Curious Evolved Link --> Chord Qutest--> AQ Water --> Belles Aria Integrated--> AQ Robin Hood--> Kudos Super 20's

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Your setup is very nice.

But, in my own experience Rega amps create at veil at the preamp stage.

 

After the previous recommendations: room, loudspkeaker position, etc..maximizing your current setup...

 

I would try an integrated with a more transparent volume control.

In case you have an opportunity, look for the amazing Crayon, for example.

HOME - Crayon-Audio

 

Mono and Stereo High-End Audio Magazine: Crayon Audio CIA-1 integrated amplifier review

They have excellent control and their volume control is very very good.

 

Another upgrade not so hard would be to remove the pc as a direct link to the dac.

 

I've never heard of this brand before but I took a look at the website and review. The design is simply gorgeous - if it sounds half as good as it looks....

 

Thanks for your input, I'll try to find a dealer where I can listen to it.

Tidal / Qobuz--> Roon--> Fios Gigabit--> Netgear Prosafe GS105 --> Supra 8-->EtherRegen --> Fiber--> opticalRendu / CI Audio LPS --> Curious Evolved Link --> Chord Qutest--> AQ Water --> Belles Aria Integrated--> AQ Robin Hood--> Kudos Super 20's

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I could probably make an argument for upgrading each of the above items but am not sure which would make the most worthwhile difference.

 

Some of the ideas I've thought about...

- upgrading the USB connection with Curious Cables / Intona

- replacing the Concero with a Mytec Brooklyn

- changing the amp....maybe to a Sonneteer or LFD

- love the idea of Proac or PMC speakers....but this is the biggest upgrade cost

Major improvements in sound quality will cost you a fair amount - your stuff is very good! I've never heard one, but the Concero is said to be a very fine DAC, The Rega is a wonderful amp and the Linns were wonderful speakers & among the best in their price range when they were new. So you have a fine system right now. Sure, it'll respond with subtle change to the numerous tweaks in this thread - but the main weakness I see from the way you express your desires is that the Linns are a little soft at the bottom, and that's exactly where you want some tight punch for what you term dynamic rock.

 

I'm generally skeptical about cables said to produce major sound improvements, but my wife and I both think we noticed an immediate improvement in sound quality when replacing a ratty old generic USB1 cable with an AQ Forest between source and DAC. So if you're using a USB1 cable that came with an old printer, springing for a better one is probably going to make a noticeable improvement in sound quality if my wife and I are not hallucinating. Beyond that, I think your best bet short of your aforementioned Proacs might be to add a sub to your Linns. I love the Proac Studio 100s, and from reading the specs & descriptions I'd expect that the rest of the line is probably also great. The Studios have very tight bass as far down as they go - and they really deliver a punch, although they fall off a good bit as they get below 35 to 40Hz. But they're about $2500 a pair (which is excellent value for that sound quality, but it's still another $2500 less whatever you could get for your Linns). Another good choice for you might be one of the GoldenEar towers - they're all very well reviewed, and the only pair I've heard sounded great. They do not lack bottom, and there are several dealers in NJ.

 

Schlepping your stuff to a dealer seems pointless to me - the listening environment is totally different from your own. You need to try one change at a time in your own room to really understand what's what. Unless you're willing to spend a fair amount more money, I'd add a small, powerful sub for $500 or less to punch up your rock.

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I think Bluesman has given you some good advice. Especially that if the bass is your main complaint a decent sub may do the trick. Subwoofers are of far better quality than was the case not so many years ago. I like the Rhythmik audio subs though it will run a bit more than $500. There are other good subs to choose from as well that are a bit less dear.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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Speaker setup procedure is best started by bass setup with computer software, I use REW, and a decent sound pressure meter, eg Galaxy Audio CM-140. The computer may require hardware for audio rather than rely on builtin. I use a Presonus 22VSL for this. This may seem to be a pain but it will have the best results of any money spent.

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putting aside the room thing, I find the biggest influencers on sound quality are:

1) Speakers. There really are some fabulous speakers out there these days. I spent a lot on mine, but the upgrade from my old LS50's is probably the single biggest jump in SQ in my hifi-buying history (30 years)

2) System Matching. I've done a lot of demo'ing recently with pre and power combo's, price seems to be less important than synergy between pre, mono's, and speakers

Front End: Neet Airstream

Digital Processing: Chord Hugo M-Scaler

DAC: Chord Dave

Amplification: Cyrus Mono x300 Signatures

Speakers: Kudos Titan T88

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I like the Rhythmik audio subs though it will run a bit more than $500. There are other good subs to choose from as well that are a bit less dear.

The Yamaha HS8S is a great sub with good, tight output to 22 Hz for about $400. I bought one for home theater use, but we sold the house and moved to an apartment not long afterward. I'm still deciding in which of our small room systems to leave it - it's excellent under my LS3/5as (which are driven by a Prima Luna tube amp in the 2nd bedroom/den), but it also sounds great supporting the small systems in the enclosed patio and the master bedroom. I only wish I could use it at serious volumes with the HT in the living room - but I'm living with the internal speakers in the Samsung 4K TV because I promised my wife I wouldn't get us thrown out of the condo.

 

I tried it with my main recording & monitoring system (Emotiva Stealth DAC driving JBL LSR305s), and it muddies up the incredibly great bass from the JBLs just a tiny bit. Maybe it'd be transparent if crossed over at 50 or 60 - I just can't seem to set the sub and the 305s to get flat, deep extension without a small but annoying (to me) decline in the clarity and precision of the bass from the 305s alone. For electric blues, pop and rock, the bass extension more than makes up for the very slight paunchiness. One of my reference recordings for this is the title track of the Doobies' Living on the Fault Line vinyl - when the bass comes in, you should get goosebumps. The other track I favor for bass is on Dave Grusin's "Discovered Again" direct-to-disc vinyl (Sheffield, 1976 - I've managed to keep my copy in perfect shape). When he comes in on Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow, Ron Carter truly knocks it out of the park with both tone and chops - goosebumps x 2!

 

If the primary concern is punching up rock and pop, I can't imagine a better solution for even close to the money. And if you can find a new HS10W (which I believe is now discontinued but still popping up as NOS from time to time), it'll deliver very similar performance and probably cost about $100 less. I like tight, well controlled bass in my rock, jazz and blues, and the 8" driver in the HS8S really delivers the goods for me - I just leave it off unless I "need" it. Your Linns will love you!

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I suggest that you take all that you read with a pinch of salt (or in some cases a whole bag).

 

Instead, educate yourself on how to listen, learn a bit of the hows and whys and try to create an auditory database of what's possible to achieve in audio reproduction by visiting dealers, audio shows and enthusiast bake-offs.

Assessing performance requires listening.

 

R

 

Indeed.

 

This is crucial ...

 

Equipment is important but the speaker setup for bass is critical. I suggest you read Get Better Sound by Jim Smith.

 

... as is, I didn't know that I had been listening to massive quantities of intermodulation distortion, until it all went away when I properly installed and integrated a quality subwoofer alongside my top-end AVR and KEF Q-series stand-mounted speakers, all round. (KEF R-series are better)

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