Am I deaf?

I've got three CD outfits here on loan from my dealer. A Linn Ikemi, a Bel Canto DAC 1 running off a Pioneer 525 DVD player and a Classe CDP. They all sound almost EXACTLY the same. After hours of switching cables, power cords and anything else I could think of, I did form a slight preference. And that was for the Pioneer DVD running straight into my amp! This freaked me out so much that I subjected my wife to the same test. She also preferred the DVD player. What in the hell is going here? Associated Equipment: Classe CAP 100 integrated amp, Sennheiser HD600 headphones, Von Schewikert VR3 speakers, Cardas and Kimber cables.
No, I don't think you are deaf. Although I haven't heard the other electronics in your system, they seem capable of revealing any differences if any. Now of course there is still the issue of the room. But I'm not suprised if they all sound pretty similar. I've been listening to these high-end toys for nine years now and I don't know what alot of people talk about. We'll I used too, but now it all sounds like crap except for my Van Alstine/Biro system which sounds, in my book, quite decent and worth the money. I wasn't even the least impressed with the Wilson X-1's when I heard them a year and a half ago. You might just want to try a marantz CD-67 and save some money. Now of course I know I haven't heard even a sizeable fraction of all the stuff out there, so maybe I just hit all the wrong ones the whole way here. Who knows?
The biggest problem here is the built in preamp with your amp. I had a classe cp35 preamp and I still have the ca-100 amp. The cp35 was junk. I can't imagine how bad the integrated sounds. Well I'm sure it sounds good but I can tell you your other gear has far surpassed the capability of the preamp or whatever you would call it that is built into the integrated. If you want to be blown away try a passive preamp from reference line. My jaw dropped when I replaced my cp35 with one. Just get rid of that integrated or only use the amp part of it because your maxed out! I used to only notice slight diffrences in front ends also if any. After I got a passive preamp everything I've tried has it's own distinct character. From wadia to theta to audio alchemy It lets everything through. Or you could spend 2-3 times as much on a powered one to get the same sound. either way you need a new preamp thats the bottom line. I also strongly recommend a really good digital cable like the MIT reference. That also made a dramatic differance that was hard to believe. These two things were the best upgrades I ever did for my system. Oh yeah I'm also using the pioneer 525 as a transport and until I can get a dac 1 I'm using a $300 audio alchemy dac-in-the-box. I can tell you that this little thing blows doors off the 525 as a player so I can't imagine what you should be hearing with that great front end gear you have been trying out.
Use your ears! To much bullshit in high-end audio.
I agree with another writer that a passive preamp would clear up your problem. I have a CAT SL-1 III with signal path simplified (several switches removed) at the factory (when it went back to have a phono stage added), and my homemade passive (built around dual mono Shallco 32-position "true ladder" attenuator switches, sounds much better on CD's. If you can solder and do a little carpentry or find a suitable chassis, I'd check out the Shallco kit at The Parts Connection, Otherwise, some decent passives are available for not too much money.
I think the clear minded on to something here. Digital gear differences are small indeed today. But in my auditioning of the Pioneer DVD Players in the lower price end I noticed a high end brightness that might be assumed to presenting more information throughout the frequency spectrum. I become fatigued listening to it compared to a good transport and DAC. But Sony ES has made some great one piece players in the past that get right to the base of the performance vs cost curve. Interesting that Wadia, Krell and others have used versions of the Stable Platter drive in many of their high end designs derived from the Pioneer Elite PD65. I have used the Pioneer Elite PD65 sitting on Bright Star Rock 2, MSB DAC II with Monolithic HC-2 Power Supply, Harmonic Tech AC11 Power Cord to Power Supply and Synergistic Research Power Cord on Line Filter all feeding ARC and Threshold Class A gear (Sysnergistic AC Coupler on AMP)to B&W 801s3 with double runs of biwired HT Pro 11+, Magnan Vi Balanced interconnects. I can always double blind test tell the difference in a DVD 414 player BUT it is not like 8 (out of 10) vs 2 more like 8 vs 5.5. I am confident if this stock market keeps sliding more and more people on this thread will asking also about value in this, too often, fanatical habit. Happy listening.
I hate to just jump on the bandwagon, but what the heck. Dump that integrated and get a decent passive preamp. I have an Audio Synthesis Passion (pricey but superb) and I can detect every slight change in the rest of my system (Cal Delta/Theta Basic IIIa, Golden Tube 300B SE, ProAc 3.8, Harmonic Tech ICs and Analysis Plus Silver Oval speaker cable). Preamps do WAY more work with a signal that most people think, and they can muck it up or let it through. That said, I must confess that the sound of my brand new Toshiba 2200 DVD player is very good. It misses the subtle things (hall ambiance, full harmonic structures, three dimensional images, etc.)but for $260 bucks it is a very respectable sounding unit in its own right. Much better than any sub $1000 CD player I've ever heard.
Now that this has become a pre-amp discussion,those wiht experience might comment on dynamics.Do you loose out with passive?
there is a part of the brightness wich come from the transport ans a part from the converter.Believe me, i experienced a lot of different associations and every time, I noticed this simple fact. The most surprising is that the transport has a lot to do with the brightness (including the digital cable if any). I think that the vibration of the transport stay present in the signal as a jitter that has a spectral component that we percieve as brightness.
Heck no. It may appear that way at first but it's only because your losing that digital harshness sound. You get a way more natural and rounded 3 dimentionnal sound. I got a lot more soundstage depth and the bass is amazing. The image got much larger and don't get confused and think your losing dynamics because the background is so super quiet. Its BLACKER than BLACKER. It's almost ominous. Remember you don't need a line conditioner because there is no power to corrupt. So I would say that I got much more slam and dynamics. everything moves through it faster and with more force because the signal stays very pure. I don't know who ever started saying that they have less dynamics but it's just not true. It's the other way around in fact. I really can't talk them up enough they just aren't given the credit they deserve. If you live in the portland Oregon area I would be happy to let you try mine out.
As the owner of an 8-year-old Classe' Ten amp, their integrateds never were up to it IMHO, and particularly when compared to the Plinius, Sim, YBA--you name it. Believe me, different components sound different in my system, but I'm not running a Classe' integrated anything. Good luck in your hunt and good listening!
I agree with most of what has been said here. If the Pioneer DV 525 sounded best then your system must be otherwise quite veiled and even muddy, because the DV 525 is quite bright. Some of this perhaps from the transport, which is very dynamic, but mainly from the DAC which is excruciating in a very revealing system. The good news is that your system sounds as if it could get WAY better! Try a Plinius 8150 against your Classe - preferably while feeding the Bel Canto from the Pioneer DV 525 - and you may be amazed.
So BUCKFAMILY what do you think about all this? What is your next step? just curious Thanks.
Thanks for all the advice. I'm popping a Sonic Frontiers Line 1 pre amp in my system this weekend. (I know everyone recommended passive but I really need something that can drive headphones too.) If that doesn't work I'm selling it all and getting a Bose Wave radio.
Hi BuckFamily; I bet you're going to hear a big improvement with the SF Line 1, but don't expect an overly warm, romantic, tubey sound. The SF Line 1 is pretty neutral. Let us know how it works out. Craig
Yup...junk the Classe. Wanna solve the problem on the cheap? I recommend the Audio Refinement Complete Integrated. Phenomenal 50w/ch SMOOTH piece. Their CD is mighty nice for the bucks, too. Both pieces are a LITTLE rolled off up top. Re: passive's all about whether your front end can drive your amp, isn't it? If there's insufficient drive there'll be less dynamic headroom. If there IS sufficient gusto the advantages are multifold.
I beg to differ slightly Subaruguru. CD players usually have no particular trouble driving a passive, it is the output of the passive driving the amp that is the problem (if there is one). This means a ladder attenuator is best in the passive as it gives the best result for output impedence across the volume range (as opposed to a series attenuator which has an output impedence that varies with volume). But most importantly it means you need an amp that is easy to drive, short cables between passive and amp, and those same cables have to be very very good, else their electrical characteristics have a more than usual impact on the shape of the sound.
No you are not deaf. If they sound nearly the same, then go with the lowest cost/best value product. New equipment is not always the solutions. It your system sounds good to you -- enjoy it and stop worrying. However, if you insist upon obsessing, yes your amp is the "weak" link. However, any reasonable cost (under $1,500) change will not dramatically improve the sound of your system. The improvements will be subtle. Maybe they'll be musically important, maybe they won't. TRUST YOUR EARS.
WOW! Using a better pre-amp has made a fundamental difference is my system. I would have never guessed that a pre-amp could make such a dramatic improvement in sound. (Especially considering that the Classe integrated was rated Stereophile Class A.) I guess I'm not deaf after all. Thank you all so much for your advice.
Glad to hear your happy with your set up. Have fun.
In light of BuckFamily's comment about Stereophile Class A and multitudes of others on the net, in the print media, and on the street: I suggest we challenge Stereophile on several fronts: 1.) They are outrageously inconsistent in their methodologies of evaluation. Imagine telling your boss, or yourself if are the boss, that you changed your mind how you are going to do your work today and will likely change tomorrow and the next day but never mind when it comes to evaluation because that is the beauty of your job is always the best because you define how it is done day to day and when you evaluate me ask me how I defined myself day to day week to week etc. Why the heck does not 60-minutes have a hay day with this nonsense. 2.) Have reviewers post their hearing tests in a color graphic so we call can see what they can or can not hear. 3.) Provide information on warranties each and every time. Why the #$@% do they report it now and again? Audio Research has only 3 year warranties but their customer service is better than any life service plan around. So while warranties are not the end all for support they are a starting point. Lets make these companies accountable and the aging golden hears at the pubs. 4.) Why not use a color graphic to report subjective reportings when they are necessary (subjective reports, many things can not be quantified yet but lets use a consistent reporting schema that is quick and easy to grasp and makes the writer responsible to bridging the gap between reviews). 5.) This may all seem like I hate Stereophile. I don't. I am a multiyear subscriber. Just that things could be a whole lot better and more accountable. In the end the Class A Class B etc nonsense is just jello artsy talk until you can make linkages to other reviews that are consistent and easy to follow. Far to often a Class A recommendation is too easy to follow back to the advertizing budget of groups like Harmon Kardon (opps Madrigal) etc in Stereophile than the threads of logic between reviews. More on this when I have time!