I would consider a Theta Miles. Preferably a balanced version (two DACs per channel.) I also listen to the genre of music you describe and I can tell you that the Miles seems to get the rhythm and pacing of rock music perfectly. I think you will find that others agree. Used balanced players can be found for around $1200. Happy listening.
I would change the pre before I sold the Cal Icon (I am biased because I too have the Icon), which I think is a great-sounding, smooth, non-fatiguing CD player. You can get a similarly sounding, smoother preamp than the one you are using for $2000 and less--I would consider a tube pre with your Aragon amp. Check the classifieds for tube pre's--there are tons of great ones for sale. If you can find a BAT for $2000, grab it. Some of the ARC models are also good. I would try this before I changed out my CD player. You can definitely smooth out your sound and add air and life with a different pre, the component many feel is the most important in your audio chain.
Nice setup! The Theta mentioned above will give you great bass (Theta does that, and I think some have remote volume if you wanted to bypass your Preamp temporarily until fundage becomes available). I've owned Wadia's and they have the subtle Detail (costs more than Theta) and control and they can be used without a Preamp (KISS). Also Check out some of the Acaram Players (amazing for the money and especially used... if you are looking at Sub 2k)
But I think you are at the point (Good System!) that you need to address your Power coming from the wall. Take PS Audio up on a 30 day in home trial for a PS Audio PowerPlant 300 for your Preamp and CD player (Not your amp), Let it warm up for a couple of days (never turn it off) and then listen to your system! You will be amazed. Or buy the Miles and a used Powerplant for ~$700 on Audiogon.
If you have the time, grab a beer and clean all your Connections (RCA's, Cables, Speaker Binding Posts, and maybe even your power cords...) Buy a Hospital Oulet from Home Depot and change that out! The Six Pack will also make it all sound better to!
Also when you start looking at preamps check the short list - ADCOM GFP-750 (Run it in Active mode for Rock, and passive for Jazz) ~700 used and in three months of listening to that you can figure out the next step in the Disease!
i second the keep the icon. have had one for years and it is tough to beat.why not stay in the cal family. cl 15 sell for 600-700, cl 20 800-1000...stll many reviewers refernce.
get a cdp that has a good volume control to bypass your preamp. I owned the theta and it is okay, but in the grand scheme of things its not very good. A levinson 39 tore it up. You could afford a levinson 39 if you sold both your preamp and your cd player. Other players to consider are a wadia 850, a cary 303/200, shanling cdt 100 and i am sure there are more. If you have enough money, you should consider buying either a cary 306/200 with a volume control which run about 3300 or even better an audio aero capitole. I've owned most of the players mentioned above, (the levinson 39, the cary 303/200, the cary 306/200, the theta miles, a sony scd777es, a wadia 830, and an audio aero capitole. The capitole was litterally about 3 times better than the cary 306/200 which was head and shoulders above everything else except maybe the levinson which was closer to the cary. Its all about the money, but you really should consider bypassing your pre if you can.
you guys rock!!!!! Thanks for the quick responses. First to Cytocycle, I think I am definitly gonna take your advise on cleaning up my AC with Power Plant 300 which is something I forgot to mention I was already considering doing....so your recommendatin confirms this...thanks. To Lordgorian.....I have always been confused on the issue of bypassing a preamp with a volume controlled CDP. If I did this with say one of the great players you mentioned, when and why would I ever want to get another preamp. Would say a $1500 preamp be worth adding, or would I have to spend significatly more to improve on the performance of using a CDP as a pre. Again thanks for the advice, but you are making me want to spend more money for the audio aero capitole I have been drooling about.
You have assembled a system that "rocks and rolls," which is good because that matches the music you listen to. I would be very careful to listen to some systems (using your own music) with the cdp coupled directly to the amp before eliminating an active preamp from your system. IMHO you will lose the essence and thrill of your music if you give up an active preamp. That said, I agree with those who said your pre is probably the weak link. I also agree with the excellent cdp choices listed above by Lordgorian. The Cary 306/200 is said to be excellent (but above your price range, even used). The adcom pre suggested is not a bad intermediate step, but others such as the BAT line may do better at taming the SS sound of the system, while preserving the dynamics. Search the archives and read reviews of some preamps and cdp's to get a better idea of where you want to go.
Meridian 508.20 or 24? As mentioned,Cal also reviewed well for rock music by Stereophile. They may be out of business now.
The Cary, Levinson, and Meridian mentioned will work for rock and metal. I've heard them, but not in my system, I haven't heard any of the Thetas, so I can't somment on those.
You might also consider an EVS Millennium DAC 1 ($300-400 used) or Millennium DAC II ($700-850 used) on audiogon. Although discontinued, hand-made in low volumes, and single input - the millennium dacs are excellent for rock and metal. Very fast, tight, articulate, tonal, palpable, etc bass. Lots of good slam. Detailed, but never bright. one of my few complaints of the DAC 1 (which I have) is the center image is shifted slightly forward, ever so slightly. At least more so than I like. I tend to prefer a sound where the center performer is a little farther back. Mucho better than the MSB Link DAC 3 for rock. I throw the millennium out there as a little suggestion even though you are looking a little more upscale.
If you are so lucky to get an EMC-1 for $2k, Go for it!!!:
Would be an absolute bargain and you will be in heaven with its sound.
Contact Ric Schultz at EVS and check out his mods to SACD players. I know he is excited about the Marantz 862.Electronic Visionary Systems website
Boingo; don't sell your speakers short-- the PSB Goldi(s) are excellent speakers that can boogie-- good bass, smooth and non-fatiguing. They will reveal what they are fed, IMO. Cheers. Craig
No you would never want to get a preamp. I know people who own the audio aero and sold their LAMM L2 reference preamp. The L2 is actually a really good preamp for 13k better than most of the others at that price. So one could say that you are getting a preamp better than a LAMM L2 in a capitole. That was one of the reasons i bought mine. Even if the cd player was only a marginal amount better then my previous player the fact that i could get rid of my preamp and replace it with something comparable to say an L2 then that would be something. Also you can save on a power cord and interconnects. In my system my power cords cost about 2000.00 and my ics cost about 1600.00 so saving that much is also a really good reason to get a volume control cd player. If you get the cary or the levinson or the aero you can not go wrong. Also look into resolution audio. I hear there stuff is really something for the money. Hope this helps
The Sony XA777-ES doesn't rock??Hasn't been mentioned..Any thoughts as I'm considering one.JD
Thanks again to all who responded with their advice. For now, I think I am gonna start with ps audio power plant 300 and upgrading all my power cables. Then....I am still a little torn on what to upgrade as far as dumping my preamp (and getting a cdp with volume control) or keeping my Cal CD and just upgrading my pre. If anyone has some input on some good power cables that would "match" my Cal and Aragon that would be great. I don't think it would make sence to spend more than a $200 a peice with my current equipment. thanks jared
Based on the system you described, and considering budget, I suggest you seriously look into some DIY power cords. You will need some basic supplies such as wire, connectors, heat shrink, wire strippers, and a hot air gun, but for $200 you could probably make 4-5 quality power cords. The following link provides very detailed instructions for making PC's which IMHO are much better than stock cords, and better even than the upgraded Beldon shielded 14awg cords. I can't say for sure how they stack up to high dollar cords, but you may get some impressions by looking in the tweeker's forum at audio asylum. Use Flavor 1 for front end components and Flavor 2 for your power amp(s). Take your time and have fun making them. SORRY if my previous post got out. Dah,,,,the correct link is below.
In response to your why would i ever want a pramp again question, I thought I'd give you a few ideas. I owned a Levinson 380 before I bought a 39. I thought I was in heaven until I upgraded the 39 to a 390S. That was just amazing - stunning is perhaps a better adjective. I remember thinking to myself giddily "I have just made my last digital purchase".
SO THEN! I had to take down the rig for awhile. When I set it all back up, "just for fun", I took the 380 out of the chain, ran the 390 to my amp with some nice short cables and put on one of my favorite discs. I spent the next 4 hours trying to get my jaw off the floor. The 380 has not been back in the rig since. Well... once more just to be certain, but not since.
Now, I do also enjoy vinyl. In my rig I actually unplug the 390s, and I connect my table/phono pre direct to the amp when I want to do analog listening. I have the table going into an older but super clean Threshold Fet nine pre-amp. I could run the 390 into the Threshold as well if I wanted, but I prefer the sound of the 390 direct so much that I don't use any preamp when I listen to digital sources. To answer your question directly, you need a preamp IF you listen to analog sources or a digital source that the 390s can't decode (like SACD or DVD-A). Other than that you don't need one.
If you're wondering about the 380, yes, I sold the 380 - the 390s is *THAT* good. I have alot of CD and DAT material. In my system the ML's digital processing is close to perfect. And I mean PERFECT. It's neutrality and musical presentation is absolutely phenomenal. But couple that performance with the most elegant, dead quiet, perfect 2 source digital preamp as well? Hands down one of the best "values" out there if you consider what you have to spend to acquire this level of sonic performance in two boxes.