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bierfeldt
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Where should I go next with my system

So, I have been working to improve my primary audio system and have it to a point where I am pretty happy, but I am always trying to make it better.

What is the weakest link / where is my biggest opportunity for improvement?

Rega Brio R
Rega P3-24 with an Elys 2
Carver TX-8 AM/FM Tuner
Marantz NA7004 Network Player / External DAC
Marantz CC4003 5 Disc CD Player
Revel Performa3 M105 bookshelf speakers
Sunfire True TS-SJ8 Subwoofer

I have a PC connected to the NA7004 setup as a network server.
I will stream audio via my iPhone/iPad via Airplay to the NA7004.

I have the CD player connected to the NA7004 via a Toslink cable and it completely changed the sound for the better.

For sake of argument, lets assume a max upgrade budget of $2000 $2500. Where would I get the best bang for the buck?

hcsunshine
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weakest link/biggest improvement

well i'd say get rid of that rega turntable. i had the rega rp-1 and i found it to be lacking in bass detail. i now own the music hall mmf-2.2 and the bass is there and i love it. the turntable is $450. for a phono pre-amp i use the musical fidelity V-LPS 2 phono stage. for RCA cables, i use TARA Labs TL-101 cables they are like $109 a pair and are made right in OR. the turntable is your biggest area for improvement right now. good luck with your system improvements.

commsysman
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System Choices

My vote would also be for the Music Hall MMF 2.2 turntable, and the V-LPS2 phono stage.

Be sure to keep your cables short between the turntable and phono stage; under two feet long.

hcsunshine
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hey commsys...

i know you routinely say to keep the cables from the turntable to phono stage under two feet, but aren't the RCA cables coming out of the MMF-2.2 turntable a fixed length? i don't think they are removable. I just measured mine and they seem to be about almost 3 feet. just wondering about that, cause I too would like to keep them as short as possible.

bierfeldt
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Really, a Music Hall MMF 2.2

This seems like odd advice. The P3-24 was an $1100 table new and was discontinued like 2 or 3 years ago and replaced by the RP3. Of all the tables under $2500, you guys are telling me the Music Hall MMF 2.2 is the table to get?

commsysman
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bierfeldt wrote:
bierfeldt wrote:

This seems like odd advice. The P3-24 was an $1100 table new and was discontinued like 2 or 3 years ago and replaced by the RP3. Of all the tables under $2500, you guys are telling me the Music Hall MMF 2.2 is the table to get?

I misunderstood the budget; I thought $2500 was to buy a complete system.

With a $2500 upgrade budget, I would suggest the MMF-7.1 turntable (which is what I currently have in my main system) or the VPI Traveler. They both run about $1500. Then add the Musical Fidelity M1 LPS phono preamp, which is $450, and you will have $500 left to buy an OPPO BDP-103, which will sound 500% better than that 5-disc player.

I use the MMF-7 with the Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL phono stage ($1200) and a Benz Micro Ace cartridge ($700), but that comes to well over $3000.

bierfeldt
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Sounds like it is turntable demo time

Looks like I need to go listening. Any reason why you would not recommend the Rega RP6, the Clearaudio Concept, or the Marantz TT15s1(made by Clearaudio)?

commsysman
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Turntable

I have no experience with any of those; they may be good.

bierfeldt
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Those are the 5 I am going to listen to

Is there a record that you feel may highlight the strengths and weaknesses. I used Miles Davis's So What in an AB test with my CD player and can hear what folks are talking about with the lack of bass detail. On the other hand, the mids and highs shine like the sun compared to the CD which sounds a touch cold and clinical. I am going to take that along with Prokhofiev's Lt Kiji Suite. This is not a small investment so to buy a record or two that will highlight what I need to hear in a deck is a no brainer. The above 2 are two of my favorite recordings and I know them we'll. Do I need classical guitar or a piano concerto for the demo?

audiophile2000
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Upgrading

Bierfeldt,

I would be careful about the decision to upgrade solely for better sound. While this can sometimes work, it can also get you in big trouble. Any good dealer should mention to you that before you spend a dollar you should assess you system, what are its strength, what are its weakness. At this point you have an idea of what you are looking to change and what you want to find. The important part of this is not to forget about your system strengths as you may be so focused on solving one problem that in doing so you create another.

Also it seems like you have digital and analog front end so that is also a clear question to me on what section you want to build out.

The problem I found with many systems is they are developed in isolation with no check in regards to a reference, this check is critical in my opinion once you get into big upgrades. )

With that said, there is likely room for improvement in your system but you need to figure out what you want to be hearing more of / less of.

As I always say, if you haven't done any sort of room treatment this is always your best bang for your buck as its the least focused and refined part of your system and also the largest determinate of your sound.

bierfeldt
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Audiophile2000

I get what you are saying. Improving in one are May expose a weakness in another area.

This sort of happened with my subwoofer upgrade. With my Polk, there was no difference in bass clarity between a CD and the turntable. Now I can hear a significant difference. Alternatively, buying a new turntable might exposes a shortcoming with the Brio R.

An example might be if I bought a non-Rega table and used the internal phono stage which pairs really well with Rega cartridges and might not pair as well with another cartridge. Then I need a new phono stage and/or new integrated. A new integrated might not pair well with the speakers and I end up in one very costly (and somewhat pointless) game of whack-a-mole.

So if my problem is bass clarity with my turntable, the question should be "what do I do to resolve this bass clarity issue" within the system that I have. From that perspective, assuming I am happy with every other aspect of the system, I should try an isolate what is causing that problem or ask someone who is knowledgable on the subject. Could be the cartridge, tone arm, table or phono stage that is the driving force.

The real question then is "do I feel that bass clarity in vinyl is my biggest issue?" It does seem likely that is the thing I want to improve on as it is the only thing I can spot as "wrong."

Although I am sure room treatments would make a huge difference, I am not optimistic my wife would embrace that idea unless they are virtually invisible.

commsysman
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Listening
bierfeldt wrote:

Is there a record that you feel may highlight the strengths and weaknesses. I used Miles Davis's So What in an AB test with my CD player and can hear what folks are talking about with the lack of bass detail. On the other hand, the mids and highs shine like the sun compared to the CD which sounds a touch cold and clinical. I am going to take that along with Prokhofiev's Lt Kiji Suite. This is not a small investment so to buy a record or two that will highlight what I need to hear in a deck is a no brainer. The above 2 are two of my favorite recordings and I know them we'll. Do I need classical guitar or a piano concerto for the demo?

Kije is a good test, especially the hammered string instrument ('cymbalom") that makes a rather distinctive and hard-to-reproduce sound. Listen for clarity and realism in that.

I would also select a piano recording with a lot of dynamics, such as some of the ones by Horowitz on Deutsche Grammphon records that have Chopin and Scriabin pieces.

Another one that I strongly suggest for a demo disc is "JAZZ" by Ry Cooder, which has a wide variety of instruments that are very well-recorded and cover a wide range of frequencies and tonalities plus some good vocals.

The CD player you have is not very good IMO, so using that as a standard is not particularly advisable.

I would advise you to first get either a OPPO BDP-103 or a Marantz CD-5004, either of which will be a huge improvement over what you are listening to now. those are both outstanding players in the under-$500 range.

bierfeldt
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I agree that is not the best CD player

When I think of small, inexpensive changes paying huge dividends, the Toslink cable I bought to connect it to the NA7004 was worth its weight in gold. What prompted the purchase of the Toslink cable was an AB test between a lossless digital file and the CD player making it very obvious the CD was inferior. Since then, I have done AB tests between the CD player through the NA7004' and the same lossless file through the NA7004 and I am not sure if I can hear a difference. Maybe I can or it could be my imagination. Which makes sense to me since the digital signal is being processed by the same DAC. I know the transport matters, but in this scenario, would either of those really make that much of a difference through the NA7004?

I ask this particularly since I still need to get a BDP105 for my home theater which is a no brainer and I was eventually planning to get a second one for this system, but assumed that the CD player through external DAC would be more than adequate till that time.

Thank you for the tips on the records. If I am going to get a new turntable, I am going to do this right.

bierfeldt
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One other potential thought

I have been digging and reading old review on the P3-24. Evidently, the new tone arm from Rega along and other changes helped improve bass response with the RP3 but the universal consensus seems to be that the biggest impact that you can have is upgrading the cartridge from the Elys 2. The Exact 2 is the most common since it is Rega but might there be another choice, say with a replaceable stylus that may be as good if not better?

jackrugby
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System Upgrade

Have you considered upgrading your cables and interconnects? You didn't mention what you are using now aside from the Toslink.

bierfeldt
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Cables are new

The cable out of the Rega is attached and not replaceable. The cables from the network player and the tuner are monster. I know it is far from the best, but also it isn't the $5 crappy radio shack cables. The speaker wire is double insulated and is 12 gauge. I think it was like $80 for a 25 foot spool. The Toslink cable was like $40. I think it was from Radio Shack and was there premium line in the blue box.

Net takeaway is that You make a good point. Definitely a potential source for improvement.

bierfeldt
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So I have been thinking seriously about this

Every part can be improved, the question is which improvement will make the biggest difference. One other thought is that I spend about 40% of my time listening to vinyl, 40% to electronic files and 20% CDs.

For the turntable - I am thinking about just getting an Exact 2 and maybe the external PSU. $600 - $1000
For the Network Player - Marantz NA-11S1 looks freakin' amazing and will likely be a huge step forward. $3499
Integrated Amp - Rega Elicit R, Better circuitry and improve clarity compared to the Brio R. Alternate option would be to think about separates - ~$3000.

I am not going to bother discussing the Tuner. I rarely use it and it is fine. I am going to live with the Revels and Sunfire for a stretch as I think that an upgrade is going to be way beyond my budget.

The DAC in the Marantz unit is supposed to be off the charts good. I would attach the CD player to it and use it as my external DAC. How much does the transport matter? Will upgrading to a better transport make a significant difference, more than the outlined upgrades above. It is not my primary method for listening and as I convert to lossless, it steadily is getting less and less important. My feeling is that an improved disc player is probably a waste of money.

My hunch is the biggest sound improvement will come from the Exact 2 (or another cartridge). I am going to need to replace the Elys 2 eventually anyway so an upgrade is a no brainer. The PSU might be an improvement but evidently that depends on the quality of the power in your house. I will also look at higher end cables. That I think will be my near term upgrade. Then what would deliver the biggest bang for the buck, new Integrated Amp or new Network Player/DAC?

jackrugby
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System Upgrade

Linn Sondek's philosophy is garbage in, garbage out. Meaning your source components are your most important part of your system. I agree that you should get the better cartridge. Your Rega is a good turntable, audiophiles could debate all day about the merits of a given turntable, so keep the Rega. I would also get the external power supply it's $395. The Exact 2 is $595, so there's almost $1,000 of your $2,500 budget.

I would recommend upgrading your speaker cables and the interconnect for the other parts of your system that use RCAs. I like Kimber and DH Labs. I'm more familiar with the Kimber line and would recommend you check out their 4tc speaker cable that starts out at $185 for a 5ft pair. Look at either the PBJ interconnects ($90 for 0.5 m pair) or even better the Hero ($160 for a 0.5 m pair).

If you buy all of this together at either your local dealer or online at someplace like Music Direct you should be able to get a discount. If you buy from Music Direct or Audio Advisor call them rather than buy online, that way you can see if their willing to give you a discount. There's a pretty good markup in cables and interconnects, so check out the prices online first.

Whatever money you have left in your budget should then go towards new amplification.

Have fun, shopping for this stuff is fun and remember your in the drivers seat when negotiating price.

wkhanna
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Prioritize....

I tend to stay away from ‘what do you recommend?’ posts.

Why?
All of our reference points are variables.
We all hear different.
Everyone has differing views & experiences (which is & of itself not a bad thing). Each system is virtually unique. From varying cables, rooms & the choice (resolution) of source material to the quality of the mains power source. Also, human nature & personal bias tend to make us favor & champion the components in our own system. It is not my intent to be judgmental, as this is a natural thing…..it is just the way we are wired as human beings. You may get enough responses were a statistically viable trend may develop. Or, you get recommendations on brands you were not familiar with or never seriously considered. These are all good things, especially if they encourage you to go out & listen to other systems.

But when planning any upgrade, I believe it is always a good time to do a thorough & honest evaluation. Make a list, in order from most important to least, of the characteristics you want in your ‘perfect’ system. (Occasionally, if you are like me, you sometimes discover after arriving at what you thought you wanted you were mistaken or disappointed, or your taste or desire has changed. In such cases, the search begins anew. But with the knowledge gained from the previous quest, attaining the new goal can be a bit easier.) Some examples are how some listeners put a high premium on soundstage width & depth; others prefer pinpoint image accuracy or detail. Some may desire the bass to be a little more weighted while others will accept nothing short of Kansas-flat frequency response.(BTW- Florida is actually the flattest state in the union, but Kansas just sounds more right in a literary context). Whatever it is that you consider your ‘holy grail’, write it down. Then make another list of what you like & do not like about your system for each individual source: vinyl, computer-based files & CD.

Then determine which source is most important to you.

In your OP you say, "I have the CD player connected to the NA7004 via a Toslink cable and it completely changed the sound for the better."

So you are using the optical digital output from the CDP, thus by-passing its DAC & using the NA7004 DAC.
What other configurations did you try?
Analog out from the CDP to the NA7004?
Digital out via coax from the CDP to the NA7004?
Have you compared ripped lossless CD audio files played from your computer though NA7004 to the same CD when played on the CDP?

Partway through your thread, you mentioned a lack of bass response in your vinyl rig.
Do you find similar issues with other sources like CD or computer files?

Then you state your listening habits: 40% vinyl, 40% electronic (I assume computer files) & 20% CD.

Based on this alone, if it were me, I would not invest anything into your CD frontend.
Convert your CD’s to lossless files using something like dBpoweramp or EAC, run them through the NA7004, and never worry about CD players again. Whichever software player & file format you choose, ensure you are able to capture the complete metadata (you will only want to do this conversion once, so do a little research). Channel the rest of your audio budget to the other, more-used areas of your system. Put your dollars were they provide the best return on investment relative to your personal wants & habits.

As to your question, does the CD transport make a difference…..?
Yes.
How much?

Like all nonspecific questions, the answer is……it depends….

I know, not much help, but there are issues with all transports & CD players that will never go away. Jitter, lasers that go out of alignment or wear out. There are issues with other non-CD digital equipment, too. But they also have some other advantages. There are almost always trade-offs & compromises. But since you already appear headed down that road with your network player, the transition to computer-based lossless music files seems a natural & logical progression.

When considering equipment, I see the pre-amp as an essential ingredient in the foundation for building a good system. This belief is based on years of swapping out & comparing equipment in my system & my friends systems. All of your source components must run through your pre-amp, and until it is of sufficient transparency, none of them will ever be capable of displaying their true potential.

Just a few thoughts and alternative viewpoints off the top of my head that I hope provide just bit more insight in your search.

JMHO, YMMV
Be well,

Bill - on the Hill
Practicing Curmudgeon & Audio Snob
- just an “ON” switch, Please -

bierfeldt
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For everyone who has commented, thank you

The real purpose behind this post was to have you guys criticize my current system, and effectively get me thinking about what is and isn't working. I think this has paid huge dividends for me in that:

1. It has occurred to me that I am migrating away from CDs. I seriously considered a CD upgrade but this helped me realize that within a year, I probably won't even use a CD player anymore and it would be a complete waste.

2. It prompted me to think about what I like about the sound I currently have and what I don't and how everything integrates together. For instance, the upgrade of my subwoofer exposed deficiencies in my turntable or phono stage. A change in one place may create a problem in another.

3. Consider all parts of the system, including cables. Every part has an influence and has an opportunity to create or reduce distortion.

4. Finally, I think I understand what I like about the sound (I am sure I will butcher the description, but I'll give it a shot anyway) - it provides a rich, clear soundstage. It is extremely transparent, but not to a point where the details of a recording overwhelm the music. And finally it has a touch of warmth that takes away the harshness you hear in horns, strings and certain voices, but still maintains an airy quality to the sound.

When I thin about why I picked every part of this system (except the CD player - that was because it was a 5 disc changer) that is why I selected it. I need to stay true to that moving forward.

Thus, I think my upgrade path is:

Rega Exact 2 and Rega PSU - Should improve detail, especially bass but will still deliver the same quality midrange and highs.

Cables - I am going to prioritize getting a higher end RCA cable from the network player to the integrated amp and speaker cables. The others can't be changed or are irrelevant in the longer term.

Network player - the fact I can't hear a difference between a losses file and a CD means I may be bumping up against the limitation of my network players DAC. I believe this because I am using a mediocre CD player, and if the transport matters (and it makes sense that it does) I should be able to hear a difference. The new Marantz NA 11s1 is the first I will look into since I really like the NA7004, love the feature set and the Stereophile review leads me to believe it is the gold standard in network players with an extraordinary DAC.

Amplification - This is greyer. I am certain that at some point I will want to move to separates as the Brio R replaced a Carver preamp and power amp. I am not sure if I should use the Elicit R as an interim step. I will need to listen to is side by side with the Brio R. It may make more sense simply to wait till I can afford separates that are worth getting.

Speakers - When I do upgrade, it is going to be to be post separates. I am certain that I am not going to find a speaker under $3K that I like better than the Revels to justify upgrading and if I am going beyond $3K, I will need to consider going a lot higher.

Subwoofer - I think the Sunfire True subs are an excellent value for the level of detail they provide. There are several subs that I have heard in an around $1K - $2K range that I think are as good but none that I thought were really better and I am pretty sure that at 1500w I won't need more power.

I think I have the right upgrade path with a plan in place that will help me stay true to the sound I like. Now I guess I need to make a few phone calls.

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