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magma90210
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how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

i've had my first "hi fi-ish" system for about a year and a half...been really enjoying it...

would obviously like to get some better components, but from now on it will probably have to be upgrading one piece at a time...anyway here's my system:

Cambridge Azur 540A amp

Cambridge 540P phono stage

Rega P1 turntable (upgraded with glass platter and Denon DL-160 cartridge)

NAD 5220 CD Player (really old model, 89-ish, got off craigslist for $30)

EPOS Els-3 minimonitors

so....how to decided what to change? Have been basically been happy with everything...

should i do speakers first? or maybe the CD player? that's the oldest thing I have, how much to really step up?

Colnmary
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

I would go for the CDP first. Your amp and speakers are able to make full use of a NAD C542 at discount prices if you like the NAD sound. I have a NAD C541i CDP in my lounge which I rate the sound very highly. Or maybe a Cambridge model to brighten the sound a little and go with the amp. I think you will find CD players from NAD and Cambridge in the 2000's have improved over 80 to 90's models in quite a large way musically,build quality and cost wise.

mrlowry
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

Agreed, the CD player needs to go. CD players have made SEVERAL leaps since then. If the music is mangled by the CD player it really doesn't matter what integrated and speakers you are using. Don't get me wrong I'm not bashing NAD CD players, any CD player from that era won't measure up to what is available today.

For affordable CD players I'd recommend:
Rotel RCD1072
Arcam CD73

Jan Vigne
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

Certainly I'll disagree, it's what I do.

Given the existing system - even without hearing your system - I would say your largest problem is a missing bottom octave.

Admittedly the CD player is the oldest and in digital minutes if not seconds count in when your present player will be obsolete. Buy it today, tomorrow someboby has something better. That's the way digital works.

However, the NAD CD players have always had a reputation for excedingly good performance within their price range. Therefore, assuming the CD player is operationally sufficient and you are not just burning to have a new face on your rack shelf, it should do the trick for a bit longer.

So, the CD player can wait. The amp has a decent amount of power and, if it doesn't play loud enough, buying more watts is an inefficient way to get louder sound. It's a good value item as is the phono section and the turntable. That gives us, amplifier/pre amp - good value, turntable - good value, CD player - enough to get by - if you added a DAC later you could use this as a transport and it would be good for another few years, speakers very good value at what they do. What the system doesn't do is deep bass, everything can and does produce it except your speakers.

We can argue the benefit of deep bass to a system, particularly if the music you listen to rarely extends its response beneath low E/41Hz from a bass guitar, but deep bass power is the foundation of most contemporary music. A good value sub like the Hsu can extend your system's response down into the low 30Hz to mid 20Hz range with excellent clarity of purpose. This provides more than just the obvious additional bass response of a quality subwoofer though giving certain music a bit of thump to move the music along is not a bad idea IMO - as long as thump is not all you end up with.

With a sub like the Hsu you can open the system to a range of frequencies where a vast region of ambient room noises occur, the sort of low level room effects that make a good recording come to life in a totally new manner. If you listen to jazz of the Bill Evans variety, there will be a sense of openess and transparency that comes with these low frequencies being present. Classical music will benefit in a similar fashion as will any "live" sounding recording. This is not just when the bass is playing or certain notes are hit, this is a constant that affects the entire presentation of the music at all times, even when the musicians are resting between pieces.

The sense of being transported to the recording venue will be heightened and the existing speakers will be less obvious within the room, they will further disappear. The sound of bass instruments, especially those of an acoustic nature, will be rounded out and instruments will become more three dimensional and capable of standing within their own space on a recording. Following the bass line and the interplay of the musicians against the bass player's work will become more easily accomplished and the overall sense of "aliveness" should step up a notch making music more involving. This and you will have bass response that can be dialed in for your taste and the needs of the system and even each recording if you prefer. Placing a sub correctly and independently of your satellites allows you to get the best response from both the sub and your existing speakers without compromising either for the sake of one virtue. For what you gain from the Hsu sub you would pay thousands if you tried to get as much from a single speaker system. When you step up in speakers you can then choose based on the other aspects of the speaker's performance and not have to compromise your selection just to gain bass response.

By using the top notch variable crossover on the Hsu sub your speakers will have less work to do and will not be stressed by the deep bass that exists on a recording that they cannot reproduce. Dynamics will increase and volume will have more capacity. Midrange clarity should improve with the mid/woofer doing less work in the bass region.

And, of course, a cheap sub will destroy all of that and just give you thump. Consider the Hsu ($349 [I think] direct from the manufacturer with a 30 day trial) or one of the few inexpensive subwoofers that actually play music and then start saving for a better front end.

judicata
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

Do you listen to the CD player much? Depending on the answer to that, I'm more inclined to agree with Jan.

If you could audition a newer CDP in your system, the difference you hear may persuade you in one direction.

floydianpsyche
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

I would also suggest that you add a sub-woofer as it will open up the sound, then you change your cd player.

bifcake
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

Whoa! Jan and I agree on something! I think that you're missing quite a bit of music due to insufficient bass, so I agree with Jan for the same reasons he very eloquently outlined.

The only thing I would change is that I would go with full range speakers rather than a sub. I've never heard a system that successfully integrated a sub with satellites.

linden518
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
Whoa! Jan and I agree on something!


What's this world coming to?!!

bifcake
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

I know! I think I hear Twilight Zone music in the background!

Jan Vigne
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
The only thing I would change is that I would go with full range speakers rather than a sub. I've never heard a system that successfully integrated a sub with satellites.

And I've seldom heard full range speakers I can afford that didn't compromise when they combined a large woofer doing acoustic bass and the piano and the drums and the vocalist and trying to be explosively dymanic, highly detailed and involvingly subtle all at the same time. IMO I've heard numerous satellite/subwoofer systems that had seamless integration, shared timbral accuracy and were capable of all three qualities.

Most of it IMO is in the sub and the sub amplifier/crossover. The Hsu sub, if I remember correctly, with its BASH type plate amp has a low frequency cut off extending to as low as 30Hz for the crossover knee and the filter is a -24dB per octave configuration. Most subs don't extend the crossover that low and most have much more shallow filters. A typical sub is playing music well into the lower range of male vocals and many instruments are divided between the sub and the satellites in awkward slices. Once again my opinion only but the satellites can be run full range if desired with the Hsu - or any high quality sub that employs such filters and variable crossover points - and still have very good integration of the two sound sources. The BASH type plate amps also feature a continuously variable phase control - not just a this or that way switch - so placement issues are smoothed by the phase transition between sub and satellites.

It requires a driver/enclosure combination that is meant for music and not just shake the floor rumble but given that degree of quality, I'd much rather have a satellite/sub combination than a conventional and affordable full range speaker with its inherent compromises in too many areas.

So Alex and I don't really agree after all.

bifcake
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:

So Alex and I don't really agree after all.

Whew, so Hell hasn't frozen over after all. Ok, all clear!

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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

If you listen to a lot of CDs, then I'd recommend upgrading the CDP first. Getting the midrange right, without digital glare is far more important to me than an extra octave below and overall crappy sound.

You've got a decent TT. How does it's sound compare to your CDP? I'm guessing it's heads and shoulders above the CDP. If so, then work on the CDP first.

Next, I'd look at speakers, with the exact direction highly dependent on your overall budget.

Dave

Jan Vigne
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
Getting the midrange right, without digital glare is far more important to me than an extra octave below and overall crappy sound.

If you read my posts here, you'll see that my reasoning in favor of a high quality subwoofer was based on its ability to provide more than just "an extra octave" of frequency extension. I do not listen to very much if anything that pushes the limits of floor pounding 25Hz reproduction but that doesn't mean I do not or cannot appreciate what a good subwoofer and extension into the deepest octaves brings to a system's transparency. The addition of a quality sub should actually enhance the ablity of the existing system to more accurately portray midrange timbres, textures and timing.

If the CD were a piece of junk, then it should go. But I don't believe that to be the case here.

BillB
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

I lean towards the subwoofer, too. Ideally the OP could try out a new CDP and a SW (on loan or 30 day guarantee or whatever) and see what he thinks. But from my distant seat I think the SW will make a larger diff.

magma90210
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

hey all,

thanks for the feedback.

to answer some questions...right now I mainly listen to LPs...I have a lot of CDs, but I guess right now I've become sort of "addicted" to the sense of space and warmth that my record player gives me over CDs. also, each instrument seems to stand out on its own more (don't know the term for this i guess)

The NAD itself seems pretty good. It sounds decent, pretty good on good sounding CDs like, say a rudy van gelder remaster of Kind of Blue or something...sort of harsh and flat on more modern rock stuff...but i guess a lot of modern rock stuff probably sounds like crap....the CD player barely plays CD-Rs, really struggles, but considering that I don't think there WERE CD-Rs when it was made i shouldn't complain.

So...hmm....it's clearly either the CD player or the sub, and people have been convincing about both...

One question: does that Hsu sub a self-powered one or would it have to work with my amp? Also, do you need to buy a "crossover" separately or is that in the subwoofer?

Two: Does the fact that I do a fair amount of listening on headphones (Grado SR-60s) change anyone's opinion?

again...great advice, thanks so much : )

Jan Vigne
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

Everything is included in the Hsu sub other than cables.

http://www.hsuresearch.com/index.html


Quote:
Does the fact that I do a fair amount of listening on headphones (Grado SR-60s) change anyone's opinion?

Now you've thrown everything off course! Now I think you should upgrade the cable to your headphones.

Not really.

Listen to a new CD player and order the sub then make your comparisons. A good CD player in the right system can find the music in even atrociously poor recordings. But having that bottom octave when you wish to be in the space of a recording such as KOB is something you will not regret. Should the source be defficient at this time to provide the full benefits of the sub, it is a piece to grow with rather than replace in the near future. Should you take a liking to the particular magic of mini-monitors, there are some phenomenal small speakers that will easily mate with a quality sub.

dcstep
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
hey all,

thanks for the feedback.

to answer some questions...right now I mainly listen to LPs...I have a lot of CDs, but I guess right now I've become sort of "addicted" to the sense of space and warmth that my record player gives me over CDs. also, each instrument seems to stand out on its own more (don't know the term for this i guess)

You're welcome.

If you like the music on your CDs, but don't like the way they sound, then you really do need to upgrade your CDP first, IMHO. One possibility is using your current CDP as a transport and by a good DAC, like the Benchmark DAC1 that will likely substantially enhance the digital performance.

The goal with digital is to get the ease of listening comparable to analog. Things are getting much, much better in the digital world, but the cost is relatively high vs. analog. A high quality DAC will gain you much and then open up more digital opportunities for you. Benchmark and Bel Canto are a couple of good places to start and I'm sure a few others will be suggested if you ask. Oh, make sure your CDP has a Digital Out before going the DAC route.

For some reason Jan seems to think I'm talking to him whenever I post here. Jan's priorities are different from mine, as a serious musician I think that getting the midrange right, so that vocals and horns sound proper comes before adding a subwoofer. I went decades with limited low frequency response before finally buying full range speakers relatively recently. For me, vocal accuracy, lack of glare and freedom from stress are far more important than full-range reproduction. Of course, that's a matter of personal choice. You'll need to decide which camp you're in before deciding what to do next.

Dave

magma90210
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

the problem is now i want BOTH a new sub and new CD player but i guess that's the problem of going down the audiophile road to begin with ; )

also, since I mentioned them....should i think maybe about upgrading my headphones -- i listen to them alot after the missus goes to bed at night....i've been pleased with the grado SR-60s, everything i read said they were a great value, but obv they weren't super expensive

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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

The easiest thing to understand about that argument is whether or not you can live with your CD player to enjoy vastly better overall performance of ALL of your sources, not just digital via cd. If you can live without the better bass response and subjective increase in overall 'warmth' of recordings, go with a higher-resolution cd player, ideally one that can do SACD as well.

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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
Whoa! Jan and I agree on something! I think that you're missing quite a bit of music due to insufficient bass, so I agree with Jan for the same reasons he very eloquently outlined.

The only thing I would change is that I would go with full range speakers rather than a sub. I've never heard a system that successfully integrated a sub with satellites.

What about the Nola Thunderbolts in a Maggie 20.1 system? Those seem to integrate perfectly! Oh, I forgot, a blanket judgment is SO much easier for you!

Jan Vigne
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
For some reason Jan seems to think I'm talking to him whenever I post here.

For some reason you seem to think I am addressing you when I post. Why? Can't I respond and not be talking to you?


Quote:
Jan's priorities are different from mine ...

How do you know that? We've never, to my knowledge, discussed our personal priorities.


Quote:
... as a serious musician I think that getting the midrange right, so that vocals and horns sound proper comes before adding a subwoofer.

I think it's quite unkind to thrown around the authority of being a "serious musician". Does that make the rest of us "unserious musicians" if we have a laugh while we're playing?

I would agree that getting the midrange correct is the first task of a high quality audio system. I've stated so on numerous occasions on this forum, having been indoctrinated with the concepts of "BBC sound" at a very young age. Do you believe I listened to LS3/5a's for decades just for their bass?

The point I was making is that the current speakers in this system have a quite good midrange quality. They are hardly inferior in this respect to my knowledge. Though I've not heard the model specifically, I know the house sound. Based upon what I know of the line, I suggested a subwoofer would complete the system nicely and actually improve the midrange. Look back, you'll see that I've made that comment twice now. Why do you keep overlooking that aspect of my reasoning for a subwoofer?

And based upon the quality of the existing speakers, I have no reassurance a new CD or full range speakers will provide a "better midrange".


Quote:
You'll need to decide which camp you're in before deciding what to do next.

Camp? We're taking an outing?

I suggest you be in the "camp" that gets you the best sound quality through the shortest possible path. If that happens to be the least expensive also, more the better.

See, now, there I was addressing you and then I switched off and I wasn't addressing you. But, if you really like the advice, you can listen in. It's free.

Buddha
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
Certainly I'll disagree, it's what I do.

Given the existing system - even without hearing your system - I would say your largest problem is a missing bottom octave.

Admittedly the CD player is the oldest and in digital minutes if not seconds count in when your present player will be obsolete. Buy it today, tomorrow someboby has something better. That's the way digital works.

However, the NAD CD players have always had a reputation for excedingly good performance within their price range. Therefore, assuming the CD player is operationally sufficient and you are not just burning to have a new face on your rack shelf, it should do the trick for a bit longer.

So, the CD player can wait. The amp has a decent amount of power and, if it doesn't play loud enough, buying more watts is an inefficient way to get louder sound. It's a good value item as is the phono section and the turntable. That gives us, amplifier/pre amp - good value, turntable - good value, CD player - enough to get by - if you added a DAC later you could use this as a transport and it would be good for another few years, speakers very good value at what they do. What the system doesn't do is deep bass, everything can and does produce it except your speakers.

We can argue the benefit of deep bass to a system, particularly if the music you listen to rarely extends its response beneath low E/41Hz from a bass guitar, but deep bass power is the foundation of most contemporary music. A good value sub like the Hsu can extend your system's response down into the low 30Hz to mid 20Hz range with excellent clarity of purpose. This provides more than just the obvious additional bass response of a quality subwoofer though giving certain music a bit of thump to move the music along is not a bad idea IMO - as long as thump is not all you end up with.

With a sub like the Hsu you can open the system to a range of frequencies where a vast region of ambient room noises occur, the sort of low level room effects that make a good recording come to life in a totally new manner. If you listen to jazz of the Bill Evans variety, there will be a sense of openess and transparency that comes with these low frequencies being present. Classical music will benefit in a similar fashion as will any "live" sounding recording. This is not just when the bass is playing or certain notes are hit, this is a constant that affects the entire presentation of the music at all times, even when the musicians are resting between pieces.

The sense of being transported to the recording venue will be heightened and the existing speakers will be less obvious within the room, they will further disappear. The sound of bass instruments, especially those of an acoustic nature, will be rounded out and instruments will become more three dimensional and capable of standing within their own space on a recording. Following the bass line and the interplay of the musicians against the bass player's work will become more easily accomplished and the overall sense of "aliveness" should step up a notch making music more involving. This and you will have bass response that can be dialed in for your taste and the needs of the system and even each recording if you prefer. Placing a sub correctly and independently of your satellites allows you to get the best response from both the sub and your existing speakers without compromising either for the sake of one virtue. For what you gain from the Hsu sub you would pay thousands if you tried to get as much from a single speaker system. When you step up in speakers you can then choose based on the other aspects of the speaker's performance and not have to compromise your selection just to gain bass response.

By using the top notch variable crossover on the Hsu sub your speakers will have less work to do and will not be stressed by the deep bass that exists on a recording that they cannot reproduce. Dynamics will increase and volume will have more capacity. Midrange clarity should improve with the mid/woofer doing less work in the bass region.

And, of course, a cheap sub will destroy all of that and just give you thump. Consider the Hsu ($349 [I think] direct from the manufacturer with a 30 day trial) or one of the few inexpensive subwoofers that actually play music and then start saving for a better front end.

Not looking for a fight.

I think Jan's post was terrific. Near perfect!

There are always other answers, of course, but Jan hit a home run here.

I thought I posted on this thread yesterday, but must have stopped at "continue" instead of "submit."

What I thought I posted yesterday was, "What Jan said!"

Again, not the only answer, but one very very worthy of your consideration.

Cheers.

JIMV
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
If you listen to a lot of CDs, then I'd recommend upgrading the CDP first. Getting the midrange right, without digital glare is far more important to me than an extra octave below and overall crappy sound.

You've got a decent TT. How does it's sound compare to your CDP? I'm guessing it's heads and shoulders above the CDP. If so, then work on the CDP first.

Next, I'd look at speakers, with the exact direction highly dependent on your overall budget.

Dave

Great advice, especially about the budget, which will drive a lot of the decision.

JIMV
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?


Quote:
That gives us, amplifier/pre amp - good value, turntable - good value, CD player - enough to get by - if you added a DAC later you could use this as a transport and it would be good for another few years, speakers very good value at what they do. What the system doesn't do is deep bass, everything can and does produce it except your speakers.

Hard to arge with such well thought out advice. I like the bit with the DAC as there are a few today under $300 that would make a big improvement on the CDP, though it would also need a cable,

dbowker
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Re: how do you decide what to upgrade first in your system?

My order would be:

CD player first
Sub or larger speakers next (Epos makes a great sub for those ELSs)
TT and cartridge

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