Advise please for best system upgrade under $2,000

I'd like to spend about $2,000 or less to update my system on either new or used components. What would you spend it on to get the most improvement? Speakers, CD, preamp, or amp?
I'm currently running all Solid State: Aragon 4004MKII amp, B&K Ref 20 preamp/processor, Sony DVP S7700 for CD and DVD (96khz/24bit D/A) and Magnepan 2.7 speakers. It sounds very good but I'd like to try tubes to get more musicality and depth. I mainly listen to Jazz and Rock(not Hard Rock).
Unfortunately, there aren't many high end dealers here in Indy so I'd probably be buying without auditioning.

Here's what I'm currently thinking:
1. Musical Fidelity X-Ray CD player($1,000) with a separate MF X-10 tube buffer attached($399).
2. ARC, CJ, Cary or other tube preamp ($2,000 or less used here on Audiogon).

Please offer your thoughts. Specific component and model recommendations are appreciated. Thanks.
new cd player is where I would start.
i would consider a pre-amp and cd player upgrade ( both are needed)

preamp- Bat Vk-30...this pre is the best thing going in a used preamp..they go for $1400-$2000 depending on options ( 6 pack,remote, phono etc..)rock solid reliable, very flexible, and sounds as good as the tube you put in...also very good company.

cd player- marantz sa-8260....great unit..very musical..Sounds great on redbook and sacd..$600-$700 used.

so a stripped bat vk-30 and a marantz sa-8260 will put you right around your budget and you will have a very good sounding system..

what are you using for cables ?
Go with one of the tube pre's you have listed first. A new CD player or dac could still be had if you buy used. The ARC is probably the least tubey and you'll need to research exactly what you want. Some preamps with tubes actually sound syrupy and sloppy. I prefer ARC but tried a little Cary budget model and didn't care for the highs and lows. Beauty of it is if you buy here you can get most of your money back, maybe more if you don't care for it. You'll need to figure out for yourself what sounds best to you between the different tube pre's. It's a wonderful thing to learn about. As long as your Aragon amp still works fine I'd leave it alone. Personally I don't think there's much to be had without spending a ton of money for little gain in the amp department.
I'd like a universal player(SACD and DVD-A). Any suggestions on a model? Would a tubed output stage help or am I asking too much?

I'm not using expensive cables. I'm embarrassed to say they're just Monster Cables. Do you think upgrading these would help significantly? Also, does the Marantz play SACD and DVD-A both?
I think the BAT's a good suggestion.
Thanks for both your help.
I would get a used Wadia 830 CD player for around 1500.00, you can run it direct to the amp with no preamp, and spend the other 500.00 on some decent cables.
You may consider room treatments and dedicated lines before any component upgrade as this will give you more than a component upgrade IMO. Happy Holidays
The most important component is the room. Spend your $2000 on treating the room and getting the acoustics correct. Add tube traps and RPG diffusers. This change will make a much bigger improvement than any component change.
Ejlif did make a good suggestion with the wadia...however some point need to be made.

1. will the wadia work or be to your liking with your gear ?( aaudition is needed) if it does...then you are ahead of the game. wadia gear is high resolution/detailed and not romantic in any way.

2. do you need preamp function ?

3.where are the tubes ? maggies do really, really well on tubes. your 2.7's are FANTASTIC speakers ( the ribbons are awesome)...

the marantz sa-8260 i cd/sacd only..and it does those formats very, very well. considering the price tag, you would be hard pressed to find a class A "digital" player for less...( the cd is within 95% of the sacd- it is that good)

in regards to cables....hummm....i would suggest rethinking your budget or breaking it up in a short term/long term goal...$2k for know (cd/pre) and $1.5k for cables over the long run..

the bat vk30 is a awesome unit..very musical...the only downside is it take 6-6922/7308 finding that many high quality tubes (ie nos premiums) can be a chore. there are plenty regular 6dj8's and 6922 replacements out there but the really nice ones go for big $$$.

it is not that cables are expensive. it is that good cables are expensive. believe it or not $1.5k for total system cabling is cheap, and the differnce is like to changing a componenet.

here are some cable suggestions..(based on 2-1 meter lengths ic and 8 foot speaker and 3-6 foot pc's)

interconnects- discovery plus 4(slightly warm) or cardas neutral(neutral) or sraightwire serenade(big sound with bass). feel free to mix mix them up and try in different positions. they will run $150 (discovery),$175(serenade), $225 for the cardas nr...forgot to mention coincedent- $175 pair.

speaker cables-humm....comes down to taste, system synergy, and budget....i would look at xlo type 5a. it is a older cable but neutral with a tight, full sounding bass..( about $300-$350 used) or cardas neutral reference about $350 used.

so far , the cable projection budget is at $375 for ic's and $350 for speaker cables which is $725...not bad.. but power cords are needed and are often overlooked...they make a HUGE difference and account for smearing and tonal variations.. would look at synergistic research or audience..each one is $250 a cord and 3 cords are you are now at $1500 for cabling which is pretty good..

btw, i am in favor room treatments but if needed..your maggies are a really, really great speaker and deserve the best equipment and cabling you can afford....would suggest room treatment if needed after the transformation..btw, the maggies are pretty sensitive to placement... they have to be mirrored within 1/8" to do their mojo

hope that helps and sorry to blow the overall budget. but the end result with a little synergy will be a very musical experience.

good luck,

Add a DAC to your transport...recommendations can range from a Scott Dixon Tubed DAC unit or other similar. It will be practically a new CD sound with the DAC aspect difference. Cost: $500.

Add a tubed preamp. The best I would be able to recommend is a First Sound Presence Deluxe. The earlier MKI models go for around 1-1.5K. They take just a pair of 6922 tubes or equivalent, much easier to outfit than the mentioned BAT 30K and they also take a pair of O2A tubes which last for up to 10 year. The sound is astonishing even in comparison to the other heavy weights. It can compare easily to ny AR, LAMM, CAT and of course BAT. BTW, it has a separate heavy weight power supply.

If you want and can stretch your budget, you can always buy a MKI and have it become the latest MKII or buy an used MKII for about 2.5K.

The transport replacement issue, is a non issue, the Sony you have have been known as an excellent transport ever since and are now becoming more popular than ever.

I had used a Panasonic DVD player as a transport originally with a Bel Canto DAC-1.0 and now switched to a dedicated 47 Labs Shigaraki Transport and a Bel Canto DAC be honest, cannot tell too much of a difference. The DAC I believe will be the component that will be the best investment in terms of Digital front end.
I have found the preamp to be the most important part of a system and think that getting a nice tubed preamp would benefit you the most. A c-j Premiere 14, BAT VK5i or VK30, or something else would give you more warmth but also probably better detail. And since every source would be run into it, every source would benefit. Thank about it.

So, it appears that you have only CD playback and DVD playback (in 2-channel stereo) available to you now. It also appears that having a pre/pro in your system is not necessarry as you are only playing 2-channel audio. If this is the case, I have a unique solution for your upgrade path.

Buy a Quad 99-CDP CD player! It has an excellent built-in volume control AND it allows you to connect other digital sources and use its internal 24/192K DAC to improve the sound quality of you other digital components. You could sell your pre/pro to suppliment the cost of the new CD player and still have all of the funtionality you need.

So, here would be the proposed system:

Sony DVP-S7000 (for DVD playback) connected via a digital cable into the Quad 99-CDP

Quad 99 CDP (for CD playback, remote volume control and 24/192K DAC), analog outputs of Quad connected to your power amp.

Aragon Amp


I'm currently using a setup like this with the Quad 99 CDP acting as cd player, pre-amp and DAC for DVD playback. It is incredibly simple, incredibly compact and it sounds excellent!

The Quad 99 CDP is an excellent CD player and has replace a couple of more expensive units in my setup. It's analog volume control is excellent and bested my buddy's $4000 tube pre-amp (in transparency and articulation). The Quad 99 CDP is only $1495 new and I bought mine used for under $850. Since then, The Absloute Sound has reviewed it and given it a glowing recomendation.

Check it out. It could be a simple, cost effective solution to your upgrade quest.


the firstsound presence pre is great gear..also Jond is spot on with his recomendations...

the owner of first sound - emanualle is a first rate gentleman and will help out even with used gear, and is always available via phone

however the first sound doesnt have a remote.....

i would love to try a first sound pre but i need a remote (once you go remote there is no going back)

the bat vk-30 with remote is the best thing going for the $1.5k - $2k price range imo...(depends on options - sixpac,phono,remote etc...)

you could also try a muse 8 that will play dvd and cd's ( they go for $1000) did get some great suggestion on adding a outboard dac..the muse 296 is also a great dac.

there are alot of options out available...would suggest buying a tube pre that fits your needs (remote, tubes, service, sound). there are some great suggestions wether bat,cj,first sound,ARC (ls-15,ls-16)... if you dont like it, you "should" be able to sell the unit and at least break even if you buy at a fair price...

digital frontends are a different story...plan on a little more depreciation...the rapid rate of advancement hs moved so fast the last 2 years- it has really made buying difficult...not to mention there are relaiblilty issues with the new high res formats ( it might make sense to buy a outboad da, there is less to go wrong)...

the real issue is finding a "musical" digital front end end for less than $ is really, really hard..

the marantz is so very musical and gets alot right but i would be tempted to try a benchmark da converter with a good transport...

good luck and have fun
The above is what's so great about Audiogon users. I just got a lot of excellent advice in 1 day from people that know their stuff and are willing to take the time to respond.
So, to summarize, it seems to me I should:

A. Improve my room acoustics with traps and diffusors and other changes. This would benefit the music now as well as down the road with any future upgrades.
B. Improve my interconnects and speaker wire. I know this is important but it seems hard to compare different brands and figure out what works best (a lot of trial and error).
C. Improve my Source either with a new CD/DVP (Marantz, Quad, Wadia, etc)or a separate DAC along with my current DVP as a transport.
D. Upgrade to a tube preamp. I currently incorporate HT with the pre/pro but 2 channel is much more important to me. So I could just use the B&K as a processor hooked up to a very nice tube preamp (BAT, CJ,First Sound Presence, etc.)

All great advice. Thanks everyone for your thoughts and time.
Option D and C will be the most effective for the amount you will want to spend for the upgrades, and they will also make the most noticable sound difference.

First Sound preamps have not remote, but they do offer a tape loop for your Video application needs. Its lack of remote is made up with really great volume control using holcro resistor controls. Remote volume controls add a veil to the sound that can be really difficult to compensate even with the convenience of a remote. Of course, you need to hear this sort of distortion in order to get a clear understanding of the sonic comprises between remote or high quality control.

Good luck in your task.
if you are looking for a tube pre with theatre out... would suggest the pse hl-1...really rare preamp. has remote(motor driven) and takes 2-6922/7308...

great sounding unit but really, really hard to find. they go for $1000-$1400.

pse is located a stones throw from audio research and maganapan... needless to say....maggies sound very, very good with pse gear(the studio V monoblocks are a great match) if you are unsure about pse- call magnapan and ask about pse.
Buy more music, you system is good enough.
Noble100, Address your room, you'll be much farther ahead in the game. Ever heard the saying "if ain't broke don't fix" well this is the road your going down IMO. Is your equipment broken? no it's not so why blow $2000. You can treat your room within that budget and you'll have a room that can rival many. Look at the room being the broken part, take a crappy system and put it in a crappy room, you get crappy sound, now take a good system and put it into a crappy room and what do you have? more crap and more broke!! Most rooms if not all need some type of room treatments and your room is no different, some need more and some less. A good place to start is with the Rives web site as there is gobs of info to take you as far as you want to go. They have many links to suppliers of treatments that will further your education. One thing I've learned with high end audio is if you spend ten times more for a component you don't get ten times better sound!!!
Just my 2 pennies worth and Happy Holidays to all.

I'll start by improving the room and cables and then go from there. Although I'm curious to see how tubes might help and it is fun to experiment. But I agree we need to recognize that more $$$ doesn't equal better music or sound. Thanks all.
i dont know about the room treatment.....yet....would save as a last resort "if needed". btw, i use asc tube traps but only where needed.

would get suggest the highest resolution all starts at the source,pre,amp, speakers...high quality cable ties the whole thing together..if you havent tried high quality cables, try auditoning some from fatwyre (including power cables)or audience ( they have a great audition policy-i think you will be surprised by the difference of good power cables)

generally speaking...balance is a good thing to shoot for..the system is only good as the weakest link..adding a equalization to low res cables, pre, and source doesnt make that much sense(adding a band-aid)

you have extremely good speakers and a very good amp..i do agree that adding more money sometimes doesnt make sense- there is a point of diminishing returns. however there are certain products that offer superior / musical performance for a very reasonable price..

until you have a chance to try a great tube pre and source with good cables that can communicate the emotion unscathed... then.....

a good audio buddy of mine pooh-poohed the idea of pricey cables ( xlo signature 2, cardas neutral, and power cords)until he heard them in "his system" didnt sound the same..there was a increase in bass, dynamics, realism, and lsitenability. the difference of the power cords in his system alone was staggering.. needless to say his next step is upgrading ic and power cords.

i am sorry to say, when it comes to pre-amps. good ones(new) start at $2500-$4000, hence it makes sense to buy a good used one. great ic's start at $650(new) and go for $300-$400 used..power cords same start at $450 and $240 used...

i am not advising to overspend or buy $$$ gear but buy very good musical gear at the price point that is affordable...
Put roller balls under your CDP. Lots of threads at audioasylum. You can make your own for under $100 and have some fun in the process.
Mikesinger, You say you should start at the source first, consider the room the first place to start. Treat the room as a component and the first one at that. I know it's difficult to imagine a room having so much impact on the music but it does and people that have approached the room as a component will tell you don't underestimate the room, very powerful thing!
Why keep handicaping your equipment, we give our amps dedicated lines, we give our source components some type of conditioning, we install all kind of cones, maple platforms, etc, etc, why not treat the room, it's the same thing but a bigger picture. I'm sure you have had your share of components through your system and some you like and some you don't, but can you honestly say that you gave that certain component a 100% fair chance to prove it's worth in your system? I know this can be debated for ever but you may want to consider giving the room a bit more priority.
I've never tried to give advice before so take this into consideration.

A have a wavelength cosine v DAC with built in volume control. I have found this to be as good as running separate DAC and Pre amps ( AI3a). I noticed a cosine transendental for sale at 1950. This might be better than many combinations of other DACs and pre-amps you might partner.

Another of infinite combinations that I would condsider is the Encore pyramid DAC.( 575) I have a ovation that is similar.
They are capable of creating depth with the right accompanying equiptment.
For a tube preamp you might consider the Art Audio for 995.
I have heard this at a dealer. I have never owned it, but I would imagine that it would be comparable to most tubed preamps ( AI, VTL, SF etc )
Well, what I did was uprgrade to tubes, a VTL 2.5 tubed preamp with a ss Aragon amp. The effect is stunning and just what I was looking for, more satisfactory mid-bass and midrange and more essence and presence in the music. I think I still need to pay attention to my room and the interactions, that's next. Thanks for all your help.