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Suggestions for audio upgrade


uyire
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Hello,

 

My first post here, apologies for not doing a proper search before posting. 

 

I am looking for some suggestions to upgrade my audio listening experience. I have been hearing a lot about HD tracks and was wondering what are the most essential upgrades I must make to move from conventional to HD. I am comfortable spending up to $1000 but I can stretch it to $1500 if necessary. 

 

Here's my current setup.

 

 

HTPC

Klipsch RF-82 II

Infinity Primus PC350

Onkyo HT-RC260


Home Office:

Audioengine A5 2-way speakers

Audioengine A2+ (Not using at the moment)

Macbook Pro & Windows 10 PC

 

Thanks!

 

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7 hours ago, uyire said:

Hello,

 

My first post here, apologies for not doing a proper search before posting. 

 

I am looking for some suggestions to upgrade my audio listening experience. I have been hearing a lot about HD tracks and was wondering what are the most essential upgrades I must make to move from conventional to HD. I am comfortable spending up to $1000 but I can stretch it to $1500 if necessary. 

 

Here's my current setup.

 

 

HTPC

Klipsch RF-82 II Fronts

Infinity Primus PC350 Center

Onkyo HT-RC260

Sharp 4K TV

Chromecast / Windows 10 PC


Home Office:

Audioengine A5 2-way speakers

Audioengine A2+ (Not using at the moment)

Macbook Pro & Windows 10 PC

Philips 4K monitor

 

Thanks!

 

 

I am assuming that by 'HD tracks' you mean high definition audio as opposed to the online "store" that sells HD downloads of commercial recordings?  Basically there are a number of ways to go to make your system able to play HD. First you need a source (sources?). I'd start with a multi-format disc player. You want one that can play both video and music-only Blu-ray discs. It should also play SACDs DVD-A, as well as regular Red-Book CDs. I'd look at Oppo's offerings, But be aware that Sony, Denon, and others also make players that meet these criteria.

If you are planning to store downloaded music from the internet, you are going to need some kind of server software on the computer that you intend to use to hold that stored/downloaded music, and stream it to your two systems. and finally, since one of your two computer systems will certainly be hardwired via USB to one of your two audio systems, then you will need some kind of Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection to the other audio system. 

 

Here's what I have done. I have a Mac with a 1 terabyte drive in my office. All of my ripped CDs and downloaded HD material is stored on that computer using JRiver Media Center Software. Also running on that Mac is Logitech's Media Server Software. My Mac is connected to a Logitech Squeezebox Touch which shows all the music stored on my Mac in the form of a menu. The output of the Logitech advice connects directly to my Schiit Yggdrasil Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) the output of which feeds my amplifier. The Squeezebox Touch is, unfortunately, out of production but many are still available used on E-Bay. I say that it is unfortunate that the unit is out of production because it was probably the cheapest way to achieve connecting one's music library to one's stereo system. There are other, more modern ways such as the AURALiC Mini, but whatever you do, make sure you get an out-board DAC. The reason is because the DACs built-in to these server solutions, are often just bare minimum WRT SQ. But more importantly they usually will just work on the server client that they are part of. A stand-alone DAC with USB, Coaxial, and Toslink inputs will allow you to connect everything to the same decoder for uniform and consistent sound. If you go for a DAC that decodes DSD, it still won't play SACD so you need to use the Audio Output jacks on your disc player to play those directly to your amp. But still, you will need to connect the digital output of both the server client and the Disc player to your DAC.

I hope this will help you to get started. You will doubtless receive much more advice on the thread, and probably much of it will take issue with my advice. Well, such is the internet. My recommendations work for me and might set you in the right direction with at least some food for thought. Other will have good advice too. There are many paths to high definition audio, I hope you find one that works for you as well as mine works for me.   

George

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15 hours ago, gmgraves said:

 

I am assuming that by 'HD tracks' you mean high definition audio as opposed to the online "store" that sells HD downloads of commercial recordings?  Basically there are a number of ways to go to make your system able to play HD. First you need a source (sources?). I'd start with a multi-format disc player. You want one that can play both video and music-only Blu-ray discs. It should also play SACDs DVD-A, as well as regular Red-Book CDs. I'd look at Oppo's offerings, But be aware that Sony, Denon, and others also make players that meet these criteria.

 

Thanks for the detailed response. 

 

Any specific DAC or other accessory recommendation for my budget of $1500? I am considering spending my money on DAC / amp now and buying a disk or n/w media player later. Is it a bad idea? Anything other than DAC that can make the listening experience better on my Macbook Pro + AudioEngine speakers?

 

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1 hour ago, uyire said:

 

Thanks for the detailed response. 

 

Any specific DAC or other accessory recommendation for my budget of $1500? I am considering spending my money on DAC / amp now and buying a disk or n/w media player later. Is it a bad idea? Anything other than DAC that can make the listening experience better on my Macbook Pro + AudioEngine speakers?

 

If the $1500 is for a DAC alone, order a Gungnir Multibit from Schiit Audio (http://www.schiit.com/products). When you go to their website select Gungnir from their product list and next to "model", click on the pop-up menu that says "Please Select" and click on Gungnir Multibit. It's $1249 which is several hundred under your $1500 Budget. Then go to AudioQuest and order a DragonFly Red for your office system!

George

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2 minutes ago, gmgraves said:

If the $1500 is for a DAC alone, order a Gungnir Multibit from Schiit Audio (http://www.schiit.com/products). When you go to their website select Gungnir from their product list and next to "model", click on the pop-up menu that says "Please Select" and click on Gungnir Multibit. It's $1249 which is several hundred under your $1500 Budget. Then go to AudioQuest and order a DragonFly Red for your office system!

 

Thanks, I was just going to get feedback on the following as well:


Brooklyn DAC Black $1995

McIntosh D150 $3000 or D100 (Seems to be discontinued)

Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus $399

Emotiva DC-1 $499

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@uyire Forgive me, but I can't see how those choices relate to your budget of $1500 ... they are either too high or vastly too low by comparison.

Main System: NAS or QOBUZ > BlueSound Node 2i > Schiit Gungnir MultiBit > PYST XLR > Schiit Mjolnir 2 or Gilmore Lite MK2

 

Office System: iMac > Audirvana > Schiit EITR + Audiophonics LPS25 > Metrum FLINT NOS DAC (DAC TWO chips) > Schiit Magni 3+ > Aeon Flow Open

 

Loudspeaker System: NAIM Muso Gen 2

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Sorry for the confusion.

 

I was not sure a) if DAC is the only one I would need for a decent listening experience. Hence, I am considering < $500 options for DACs and leaving the rest for other components such as Disk Players, [Pre] Amps and etc.  b) if it's worth waiting & purchasing a slightly expensive version such as Brooklyn or D150 if I am anyway going to spend $1500 for a DAC. I don't think I'd be able to upgrade in the near future.

 

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@uyire Ah, OK ... Whilst I would accept that the Brooklyn is an excellent DAC, you are paying for a lot of features ... do you need them ? I decided that I would only be playing PCM up to 24/192 resolution (altho' most of my music and streaming is at 16/44.1) ... so I focused on the best DAC that only supported that resolution, but did it well and which I could afford ... hence my personal choice went to the Schiit Gungnir MultiBit, as @gmgraves suggested above. In my (and others) opinion, it punches well above its price point and should last you a while.

 

However, looking at your main system, I would be tempted to lower my sights on the DAC and consider a Schiit BiFrost MultiBit (or indeed the Emotiva you suggest) so that I could squeeze a new amplifier setup into your budget limit ... such as the Jotunheim/Vidar or (a tube pre-amp) Saga/Vidar. Either pairing could do well with your Klipsch speakers and a future speaker upgrade you might contemplate in the future.

 

I am sure that others will suggest some non-Schiit alternatives.

Main System: NAS or QOBUZ > BlueSound Node 2i > Schiit Gungnir MultiBit > PYST XLR > Schiit Mjolnir 2 or Gilmore Lite MK2

 

Office System: iMac > Audirvana > Schiit EITR + Audiophonics LPS25 > Metrum FLINT NOS DAC (DAC TWO chips) > Schiit Magni 3+ > Aeon Flow Open

 

Loudspeaker System: NAIM Muso Gen 2

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Schiit, Emotiva, and iFi would probably all make good choices for you.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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Hi Uyire,

 

Assuming your $1500 is for a "complete" system upgrade, and you wish to use a digital source, then in your situation I would first decide if the system was for serious listening in stereo or will you be happy with the jack of all trades Onkyo receiver that you currently have?

 

Assuming it is the first then I would take a long term view and upgrade your system in stages, and address your weak link first, being the the Onkyo Receiver. In HiFi terms it is an inexpensive product that is simply trying to do too much. 

 

You appear not to be using the Onkyo for home theatre (you don't list surround speakers or a sub) and therefore IF you are using it mainly for music I would either sell it, together with the Infinity centre speaker, and raised say US500 and increase your budget to US$2000, or use it as a stand alone power amplifier and by-amp the Klipsch RF 82 speakers. They are very sensitive at 98db and will need little power to drive them and the Onkyo could be fine for the job.

 

I agree with the sentiment of the previous posters so I would purchase an "all in one" DAC/preamp and by pass the preamp in the Onkyo (if possible) and progress in the following stages

 

(1) use the Onkyo as a 2 channel power amp in pre amp mode

(2) increase your budget to US2,000 (say) by selling the Onkyo and go on line and find a decent used 2 channel power amp on eBay or Canuck Audio Mart etc.

(3) experiment with your speaker placement and the acoustic treatment of your room

 

Others would no doubt change the order but I feel your front end is sadly lacking.

 

I would also invest in a decent software package such as J River, HQ Player or Roon (with a 30 day trial period) or Foobar2000 (free) and learn how to set up your PC so that is plays bit perfect. You can google how to do this.

 

Both DACs and software have progressed a long way since your Onkyo was manufactured (2010) and I believe you will get a marked increase in sound quality. There are many manufacturers of DAC/preamps combinations to research including those already mentioned plus:

 

1. Audiolab M DAC

2. SMSL MA 8

3. NAD

4. Marantz

5. Rotel

6. Nuprime

7 Nuforce

8. TEAC 301

9. Chord

10. iFi

 

Make sure you buy one that exhibits Asynchronous USB technology if that is how you want to access your music - or if via a NAS then you will need an ethernet input, and also decide whether playing native DSD is important to you. Great DAC/preamps are available for between $400 - $1,000 so you can have at least $1,000 left over for your power amp, if you choose to sell the Onkyo.

 

Just to repeat - decide on how serious you are about sound quality and then progress slowly in stages so that you can purchase quality equipment when you can afford the money. You should be able to purchase an excellent system for a total of $3k including speakers.

 

Alternatively if you want to think out of left field, and you have a small to medium size room, have a  look at the excellent wireless KEF LS50 speakers for $2,200, which is an all inclusive system (speaker has DAC and amp built in). Have a read of the thread here at CA.

 

Lots of ways to skin the cat and get awesome sound without breaking the bank. Do your research, and in particular search the threads here at CA, and take your time - its fun reading the reviews. 

 

All the best,

 

Ajax

 

 

 

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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On 01/10/2017 at 1:26 AM, uyire said:

Hello,

 

My first post here, apologies for not doing a proper search before posting. 

 

I am looking for some suggestions to upgrade my audio listening experience. I have been hearing a lot about HD tracks and was wondering what are the most essential upgrades I must make to move from conventional to HD. I am comfortable spending up to $1000 but I can stretch it to $1500 if necessary. 

 

Here's my current setup.

 

 

HTPC

Klipsch RF-82 II

Infinity Primus PC350

Onkyo HT-RC260


Home Office:

Audioengine A5 2-way speakers

Audioengine A2+ (Not using at the moment)

Macbook Pro & Windows 10 PC

 

Thanks!

 

Further to my post above I noticed that Mass drop have a TEAC 503 at only $699. 

 

This unit has been well reviewed here at CA and provides great connectivity including USB, Ethernet and Optical plus it plays DSD natively.

 

Could be ideal for what you need and leave plenty of money left over for your power amp.

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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13 hours ago, Mordikai said:

I really like the Emotiva DC-1- $500

next start saving for better speakers. 

I'm one of those people who believe it's 95% the speakers and the room, provided you have a decent recording to begin with.

 

No argument there. However, in keeping with that old computer adage: "Garbage in, Garbage out", You won't get what you pay for in even the best speakers unless you have an amplifier, preamp and signal sources that are up to the task. I've an audiophile friend who is, unfortunately for him, married. His wife won't let him spend ANY money on his hobby. So his brother gave him a pair of Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESL speakers and a pair of M-L Dynamo 500 subwoofers when he upgraded to a pair of M-L Impression ESL speakers and didn't need the ElectroMotion setup any more. All he had was an old Sony surround receiver (supposedly 125 WPC). Now I know that the least expensive ESLs that M-L sells are capable of excellent performance, especially when paired with the Dynamo 500 subwoofers (which go down to 29 Hz at -3 dB). Well, he was complaining that the speakers didn't sound as clean as they did in his brother's system (Classe amplification). So I took my Krell KAV-300i integrated amp over to his house one Sunday afternoon. 

We listened to the M-L speakers through the Sony for about a half an hour, then we swapped for my Krell. The instant the music started, it was as if we swapped out the speakers! Suddenly, they opened up, and became more dynamic and much cleaner sounding. With the Sony, the ESL panels seemed to have a "venetian blind" effect whereby if one moved one's head, the high frequencies would drop in and out like there vertical slats between the listener and the speakers. With the Krell, that was gone. The difference was astounding. To make sure that we weren't imaging anything, we swapped out the Sony for the Krell once more. Again, the soundstage collapsed, the midrange and highs became muddy and distorted sounding, and the venetian blind effect was back. No doubt about it, the Sony receiver's amps were not up to snuff. I hated to do it, but at the end of the day, I took my Krell home, sad in the knowledge, that my friend was going to have go back to listening to those fine speakers with that less than capable Sony receiver and that his mean old wife would never give him permission to buy better electronics (his wants are modest: a Schiit Saga and a Vidar. Only about $1K's worth of kit, but alas the money is earmarked for new curtains, and an unneeded kitchen and bathroom re-model). Well. it's his own fault. He was warned but he let his little head do his thinking for him and now he's stuck with the consequences! 

George

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@plissken @gmgraves I do have infinity surrounds and emotiva sub but not using them these days due to space constraints. With kids, I find myself using my office computer for listening. Hence, am interested in upgrading my office audio setup which is primarily nothing but MacBook pro, Windows pc and audio engine 5 and audio engine 2+ speakers.

 

I would like to spend my budget as efficiently as possible hence am open to any suggestion that can help me achieve better quality. Though I am happy with the current output for whatever I am listening to, I am eager to see what my investment of 1.5k/2k can do for me. 

 

Any speakers/amps suggestions? I can also wait a month or so to add another 1k to my budget and do the upgrade in one shot. I am afraid I won't have the luxury to spend anymore on equipments for the next  2/3 years. 

 

Thanks

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Do you have any size  or placement or other constraints? Your biggest upgrade by far will be in speakers. 

 

Barring any constraints:

 

BMR Philharonitor @ $1350

 

Behringer Uphoria UMC204HD @ $79 (easily runs with $300-$400 boutique DACS) and it has Headphone out.

 

Emotiva BasX A-150 @ $299

 

Leaves enough for shipping to bring you in @ $2000 or under. 

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I've used the Kef LS50 with the Emotiva DC-1 desktop in my office and thought they were fantastic. I was using Diy NCore amps which are also great , but tried them out with a $100 dollar all in one  SMSL dac/amp combo and thought it all sounded great!

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34 minutes ago, plissken said:

Do you have any size  or placement or other constraints? Your biggest upgrade by far will be in speakers. 

 

Barring any constraints:

 

BMR Philharonitor @ $1350

 

Behringer Uphoria UMC204HD @ $79 (easily runs with $300-$400 boutique DACS) and it has Headphone out.

 

Emotiva BasX A-150 @ $299

 

Leaves enough for shipping to bring you in @ $2000 or under. 

Those BMR monitors look interesting, not a bad deal either.

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4 hours ago, Solstice380 said:

 

Hopefully, the little head is still satisfied.  That can make up for a lot.  ?

 

As a lifelong bachelor, And therefore a perennially happy man, I have never understood why a man would give-up his entire life for sex. I.E. why buy a candy store when the candy is free? I've had lots of married men as friends, and I have never met a one that I would have traded places with. If I were in any of those guy's shoes, I would either have long since committed suicide..... or murder! However, kudos to those of you who make it work, and double kudos to those married guys who are truly happy. People are different, so it can happen.... I guess!

George

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3 hours ago, plissken said:

Do you have any size  or placement or other constraints? Your biggest upgrade by far will be in speakers. 

 

Barring any constraints:

 

BMR Philharonitor @ $1350

 

Behringer Uphoria UMC204HD @ $79 (easily runs with $300-$400 boutique DACS) and it has Headphone out.

 

Emotiva BasX A-150 @ $299

 

Leaves enough for shipping to bring you in @ $2000 or under. 

While I agree with you that the Behringer UMC204HD is probably a bargain (I have bought lots of Behringer gear over the years, and in fact my main mixer is a Behringer. I defy anyone to be able to tell my recordings using Behringer gear from recordings made with far more expensive kit. The stuff is great value for money), but I must say that it is also, primarily an Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC) rather than a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) and I really don't think that's anything that our OP would have any interest in (yes, I know it has a DAC function for monitoring, but it is a complicated device just to use for a USB-only DAC). There are lots of cheap DACs available on E-Bay and Amazon that will do ONLY D-to-A for the same money.

George

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14 minutes ago, gmgraves said:

While I agree with you that the Behringer UMC204HD is probably a bargain (I have bought lots of Behringer gear over the years, and in fact my main mixer is a Behringer. I defy anyone to be able to tell my recordings using Behringer gear from recordings made with far more expensive kit. The stuff is great value for money), but I must say that it is also, primarily an Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC) rather than a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) and I really don't think that's anything that our OP would have any interest in (yes, I know it has a DAC function for monitoring, but it is a complicated device just to use for a USB-only DAC). There are lots of cheap DACs available on E-Bay and Amazon that will do ONLY D-to-A for the same money.

 

To each their own. Let me know when you want to blind audition the UMC204HD vs some other new $300-400 boutique DAC blinded with them level matched. 

 

Given the budget of the OP an extra $300 spent on speakers will have an appreciable effect on SQ. 

 

And if the OP doesn't want the Behringer get the Presonus 2|6 for $199. 

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6 minutes ago, plissken said:

 

To each their own. Let me know when you want to blind audition the UMC204HD vs some other new $300-400 boutique DAC blinded with them level matched. 

 

Given the budget of the OP an extra $300 spent on speakers will have an appreciable effect on SQ. 

 

And if the OP doesn't want the Behringer get the Presonus 2|6 for $199. 

 

That's not the point. The point is that the Behringer UMC204HD is NOT A DAC! At least not primarily. Why encumber the OP with capability and complexity that he won't use while restricting him to USB only? If you're gonna restrict the guy to a USB-only DAC, why did you not suggest something useful to the OP like an AudioQuest DragonFly? 

 

And I agree that any money spent of speakers is money well spent. Good speakers will only get better as one improves that rest of one's system! 

George

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1 hour ago, gmgraves said:

 

That's not the point. The point is that the Behringer UMC204HD is NOT A DAC! At least not primarily. Why encumber the OP with capability and complexity that he won't use while restricting him to USB only? If you're gonna restrict the guy to a USB-only DAC, why did you not suggest something useful to the OP like an AudioQuest DragonFly? 

 

And I agree that any money spent of speakers is money well spent. Good speakers will only get better as one improves that rest of one's system! 

 

The Behringer kills the Dragonfly it in the utility department and I doubt anyone here, blind, could tell the difference in the SQ department. So that's where I'm coming from. 

 

HP output

4 analog out

TRS and RCA I/O

 

The UMC204HD is most certainly a DAC. It also has ADC and HeadPhone capabilities. I'm using it right now for my office setup. I have two cables: USB and HP.  You plug it in, you install the drivers, you connect the L/R outs to your amp and away you go. The rest of the stuff? If you don't need it you don't use it. 

 

Try this with the DragonFly:

 

Take the main outs on the Behringer and feed your L/R into your monitors. Then take the additional playback outputs and feed a pair of subs that have their own DSP. 

 

The OP want's the best possible SQ for the budget. I think  my approach nets him that plus the ability to add to the setup down the road in form of additional sound reinforcement in the lowest octaves. Heck the 204HD even has better Jitter performance than the popular iFi that people like here. 

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