An upgrade a long time overdue


I am thinking its time for some upgrades - like the whole system.  But its been so many years, and Boards like this have become so helpful and accessible, I am turning to the Pros as it were to seek some varied and hopefully passionate advice.  

Disclaimer - I tend to buy used as I have tastes that appreciate the A/B-class but have a D-class budget, so something that used to be $8,000 new that can be gotten for say $2200 now is right on the mark.  Of course it must still be relevant and likely remain so for the next couple of years.  But age doesnt matter otherwise....

I am currently running a bryston 2B (which itself was an upgrade from a Myryad T40), with a Cal Audio dac and dynaudio countour 1.8 floor-standing speakers.  this is the guts - i use a sony blue-ray player for the occasional movie, but mostly listening to music (which is all over the place, jazz, rock, opera, classical, etc, and more recently, the dreaded Pandora channeled through the phone and a input jack)

What research I have been able to do leads me to consider opening up the sound stage with something more mixed, like a conrad johnson pv14L as pre- and the ayre v5xe, and coming forward in the age of digital, considering something like the oppo 105 but i was also thinking the nad m50 / m52 combo instead of the oppo..........and lastly all this heard through (I'm thinking) vienna accoustics beethoven baby grands

so maybe the whole thing comes in at 8k - 10k?  can I achieve 80% - 90% of this for 5k? or less even?  Is my mixology fraught with disaster?  am I missing something obvious?  

i dont know what I dont know here so please weigh in 

thanks for your consideration and insights
jammer66
Maybe create a system page with photo?  This way the community can see what you're dealing with in more detail.
OP, Your Bryston is a good amp. You don't mention what preamp you own now, but I would get an Ayre regardless. 
I would get one of the Ayre Codex, too, for a DAC.
After saying all this, I would probably be more inclined to upgrade my speakers first-Unless you really like them.
B

Opening up the sound stage is affected by many factors - including speaker placement, room interaction, electronics, cabling and clean power. It’s a constant work-in-progress. This is a simple inexpensive ’cheat’ tweak that works in a different way. Music seems to float - offering a wide and deep presentation. On sale here. The following knock-offs also work - here and here.
Why is time a function of your decision?  Are you annoyed at some aspect of your system?  Even if you buy used...its a great way to slim down your wallet without satisfaction.
Steakster - great list of resources and such an interesting "sonic" development.  I am used to live music so the "conditioning" described sounds fantastic.  I am intrigued.  will add this to the list

String - timing is not set....I just got the itch .... i have something now that is decent enough, but really is unprepared or inadequate for the more modern digital media....and the technology has moved in all components enough to make me think it all could be replaced.  I've always been a 80% solution kind of buyer...ie looking to achieve the 80%-90% solution at "half" the cost (or thereabouts)

now gd - you mentioned look at speakers first....ok I'll bite - lets ditch the Dyanaudio contours 1.8mkII's .... what would you suggest to get that sound-stage, assuming I keep the Bryston?  

or maybe its ditch the Bryston as well (no pre-amp btw, its integrated) and go with something like the Rogue Sphinx....

maybe go all the way with the Spinx, with the NAD M50/M52 combo, and Vienna Acc Beethoven Baby Grands...  and now with the Accoustic Revive (courtesy of steakster's comment.....)

you can maybe get a sense for how I sense sonic greatness within reach (and not have to spend 100k)..... 
"What research I have been able to do leads me to consider opening up the sound stage with something more mixed, like a conrad johnson pv14L as pre- and the ayre v5xe, and coming forward in the age of digital, considering something like the oppo 105 but i was also thinking the nad m50 / m52 combo instead of the oppo..........and lastly all this heard through (I'm thinking) vienna accoustics beethoven baby grands"

You need to build a system, not buy a bunch of separate components. I definately wouldn't put the V-5 and the PV14 in the same system. As for the other components, they're OK by themselves, but mixed is just too random.

If you match your components correctly, you'll get much better sound for a lot less money. Here's a system for an example of what I'm talking about.

Source - Ayre Codex
Amp/Preamp - Ayre AX-7 integrated
Speakers - Vandersteen Model 1's

You can spend a lot more on the components you list, but if you compare them to this simple system, they won't even stand a chance. It wouldn't be a fair comparison. Those components sound greater than the sum of their parts because they're working together. If you went about this in a different way, you'll have to spend 3-4x the money to get equivelant SQ.
thanks sfall - and yes i readily admit the pairing is vexing me....

a couple of threads I read through noted good success pairing CJ tubed pre-amps with Ayre amplifiers.  what about the CJ ET3se with the Ayre V5xe?  

do you think the Vandy's are an especially good match for the Ayre? what makes them a better match for the Ayre vs something from Revel or Spendor or the VAs, in your opinion?

appreciate any insight or opinion - its helping me tremendously 
thanks 

 
@sfall, not a bad combo.

Jammer, I am the resident Vandy fanboy, so my opinion is a bit biased towards them. In any case, I would look for a time correct speaker like the Vandy's. You'll get the most coherent soundstage, as well as lack of fatigue, in my opinion.
So, my 2 cents, for $8K used....
-A pair of Vandy 2 sigs($1.5K), [3a sigs ($2K) or Treos, even better)
If you go with the 1's and 2's you definitely need 2w subs ($900/pair). The 3a sigs work with them, but their size allows them to go down pretty low by themselves.
-An Ayre V5xe integrated ($3K). You have enough power for 3a sigs and Treo's if you do this. Otherwise you could use your Bryston and get a decent preamp like an upgraded McCormack RLD, but you wouldn't be saving much. Besides, Ayre is a great combo with Vandersteen, to which some attribute to the zero feedback circuitry.
-An Ayre Codex DAC ($1.4K)- A real sleeper.
Excluding the Treo's, you will have spent about $7,500(going with the 3a sigs) and have some money for Audioquest cables (Rocket 88's and up).
Everything on the list will hold its' value for a while, and you will have a killer system. Now, if you want to go to tubes...
HTH
Bob
If you like this combo, I would suggest that you PM Johnny Rutan(audioconnection). He sell both Vandy and Ayre (and others) and will not only give you great (free) advice, but may even have some demo or used equipment.
B
"do you think the Vandy's are an especially good match for the Ayre? what makes them a better match for the Ayre vs something from Revel or Spendor or the VAs, in your opinion?"

In my opinion, I have yet to hear something better. Keep in mind that's just my personal opinion. We all have different tastes, and there's no shortage of good equipment. If you want to learn a lot about Vandersteen and Ayre, have a look at this. http://vandersteen.com//audio-perfectionist-journal

I've been wanting them to make these journals availiable for some time now, and they just did. Its the most complete source for Vandersteen setup and matching components availiable. Start with issue one and you'll be up all night reading.

"a couple of threads I read through noted good success pairing CJ tubed pre-amps with Ayre amplifiers.  what about the CJ ET3se with the Ayre V5xe?"

CJ is a great company and a personal favorite of mine. I have a pair of V-5's and a Premiere 18. There's certaintly nothing wrong with the combo, but I don't think its a natural paring like Ayre/Vandersteen. If you like tubes, Aesthetix is the way to go. I have a Calypso and when people ask me about it, I tell them if Ayre made tube gear, it would be like Aesthetix.

Someone above mentioned John for AC. Once again, I'm biased, but I really feel AC is the best audio store in the US. If you don't have a local dealer, call Vandersteen and tell him you need a dealer and want to use John. He'll OK it.
I agree with the above comments to stop buying components. Start by finding a good match between amp and speakers.
Thanks for all your comments guys - really appreciate it.  

I did some more digging around, sticking with the premise that I was going to upgrade (generally speaking)...Reading up on the research Sfall provided has been very interesting, but is taking time to get through given how much depth and content in there.  Really great stuff.

I've come up with some interesting observations and results of the reading and research into pairings, which I share here

Pairings and synergies that are appearing to "bubble up" as common (or should be considered as "favorable")....and in no particular order...and for fun.....I'm curious what the reaction will be to these various "system" combos....ie will the sound of #6 be worth 2x as much as #2...is there a clear "winner" based on your tastes....

1) Ayre Ax-5 integrated amp and Vandersteen 3A, or Revel Ultima Salon2 (price about $7k with the vandys, $12k with the Salon)
 
2) Primare pre30 with primare A30.2 for Vienna Accoustics Beethoven Baby Grand (price about $6k)

3) ARC LS27 pre with McIntosh MC275 amp and Tannoy Kensingtons or Sonus Faber Cremonas (Price est $11k)

4) BAT vk51se pre with Bryston 4Bsst and PMC (FB1i or OB1i)
(Price est. $9k)

5) BAT vk51se pre with Bryston 4Bsst and Dynaudio (S3.4 or Confidence 2s) (Price est $11k)

6) Conrad Johnson ET3se pre with Pass Labs x250.5 or .8 and Focal 1027S / Chorus 826 or Dynaudio C2 (Price est $10k with the Focals, $14k with the C2) 

7) CJ ET3se pre with Bryston 4Bsst and either PMC or Dynaudio, as these seem to pair with Bryston the best (nod to the Sonus Faber fans out there) (Price est $9-10k)

8) Rogue Super Magnum 99 pre with Parasound Halo A21 and Vandys, or Dynaudio (same as above) (Price est $7-9k)

9) Rogue Super Magnum 99 pre with Rogue Stereo 90, through KEF R900 or Revel Performa F206 (Price est $6k)

   

Well, now you are moving to a subjective rationale. IMHO, you will be chasing your tail if you base your upgrades on such things.
For me, I would find a speaker that you love (and hopefully a great dealer). From there, you can build a system within your budget. 
Again a great dealer will be a great guide to help you discover what you like. And, he won't pressure or demean you. If he does, look elsewhere.

 I encourage you to listen to all speakers, either in or way beyond your budget. That way you can see what is possible in a perfect world.
Then find something that comes as close to your ideal. Of course, no one likes  to 'settle for less', but at least you know you are getting the most performance for the least money
I hope this makes sense.
Bob
I'm using Vandersteen 5A's with Ayre....haven't heard a better match.
Agree with bob. It seems like you're still putting a system together on paper.
First, audition speakers and once you find a pair, then choose an amp that mates perfectly with it. This will be the foundation for your system.

Preamp will come next, and that will take time to find one with the timbre and soundstaging you are looking for. I auditioned 3 preamps in my system until I found the right one.

perhaps a gentle push-back....its not completely subjective.....

going back to the OP....i have Bryston 2B ss integrated now, with Dynaudio Contour 1.8  - i spent a lot of time picking the dynaudio over the likes of spendor, totel, thiel, klipsch, sonus, polk, and so on..... and the Bryston 2B was an upgrade purchase to a Myryad so really the english-dutch thing I guess.  Anyway the point is, I like the Contour-Bryston combo.  

Given the age of my system, and basic inability to really shine in today's digital media (ie thers nothing approaching 24/196 capability), changing the engine (sources and amplification) necessitates changing the vehicle (speakers).  So my quest starts by saying....besides dynaudio (the incumbent), who gets compared to dynaudio?  and since I am looking at used equipment,  listening to these challengers isnt really an option all the time, and given my hectic work schedule and travel, not practical.       

I am open minded, and in a different economic place than I was 15 yrs ago when I put the current system together.  So budget is to be practical without being excessive, rational (for the quality obtained) without being exuberant or naive.  I also dont want to fall into the trap of being penny wise and pound foolish.  Ie spending 6k because its 6k when 8k is not that much more but the results are significantly better.  

I am intrigued by the additional soundstage from introducing tubes (admittedly a close friend of mine was tube-manic and his excessive or obsessive tube searches was scary so I hid in SS land....but as you may have noted, I am tip toe-ing here with mixed tube-ss suggestions).  

I do not have experience with Vandys or with PMC, or with anything tube. So your input / perspectives are interesting and informative (very interested in the "why" you feel the way you do)....and I get that this is heavily dependent on personal taste.  I promise not to hold you accountable.  :)

With no other guidance I would likely go with something like  #7 or #8 above as I would stay with the Dynaudio speaker family and introduce tubes (comforted that being on the used market, the spread between purchase and sale if not to my liking is marginal) and the price point is better than #5 (BAT vs CJ).  Insert the Oppo 105 or the NAD M50 / M52 and away we go.  Maybe a MF or Rega turntable at some point in the future too....but lets not get ahead of ourselves.  hehe.

So - thats my story and I'm sticking to it.....
thanks again for your insights......
and if you havent read that source material in the link above I highly recommend it

 
You say this " Given the age of my system, and basic inability to really shine in today's digital media (ie thers nothing approaching 24/196 capability) " and to me it just doesn't make any sense. If you want to upgrade your source then upgrade your source. At that point you may decide your amp and speakers need to go, but you may now. Your current source is obviously your weak link, there are tons of great dacs and streaming devices out there many of them pretty affordable. Once you have a source you like evaluate again. Doing everything all at once just looking at stuff on paper and asking advice seems like a recipe for disaster. Take your time and if you can spend your money once and spend it right.
j - thanks and I appreciate your words of caution.  Since you know what I'm starting from, and potentially what I may be interested in going forward, what other sources would you suggest I consider

anyone else care to dare venture forward and comment on the combinations i proposed  
What's your budget for a source jammer?
lets say $5k or less.  Sweet spot is likely in the $2 - 3k range (guessing).  I mean the Oppo is only $1500 I think..
Okay, I get it.

I agree with jond, if you want to go digital, then concentrate on that first.
So, here are my suggestions for DAC's
1. Ayre codex (approx $1300 used)
2. Schiit yggy  (a little more used, but hard to find- they get sold quickly).
3. Oppo 105 (under $1K).
I chose the Ayre first, not only for sound quality, but also for future upgrade flexibility.
Insert a good Dac into the system, then see where you want to go next.

Bob 
Agree that a good DAC is the first step, but before you commit to it, tell us if you are interested in streaming or computer audio. There are some fine streamer/DAC units available that can access Tidal and there are also music servers.
Oppo now offers a DAC & Network Streamer.
I dont think I want to introduce a computer and computer based feeds to this.  Looking forward arent we headed more to a wireless and cloud based environment?  Streaming (a la Pandora or Spotify, currently sourced through the android phone) or the occasional movie (eg netflix, etc....and there is a roku-cable box-Sony blu ray player combo with the tv that feeds into the amp aux) is more like it.  

I should listen to my cd collection more - but they are mostly representative of the older sampling methods so somewhat obsolete/incomplete.  They are elevated by the Cal Audio CL-10 I am using now.  

So the digital upgrade is all about upping the game from the CL-10 and Sony players 

BTW - I have a second set up thats runs the NAD 3020, and Mirage 490 speakers, that I think will go.  And keeping the 2B and contours 1.8 for that second system, with the CL-10.  
apologies btw...all along I've been referring to the Bryston as the 2B....I'm own the B60R....but demoing a friends 2B....well you get the idea...anyway its embarrassing .... 
I should listen to my cd collection more - but they are mostly representative of the older sampling methods so somewhat obsolete/incomplete. 

This is the area where you can benefit most from an upgrade. Modern digital technology has improved the old Redbook format by leaps and bounds. A high quality DAC mated with a transport, such as Cambridge or PS Audio, now reveals detail in CD's never before possible. There are so many threads now stating how members are enjoying the sonics coming from those silver disks.

If you have a large CD collection, then maybe you should head in this direction.
Multibit DACs are able to process 16/44 Redbook in its native form and the result is a more natural, realistic sound from digital.
DSD capabile DACs can process SACD and hires files resulting in excellent SQ.





I am in thrall with streaming music, at the moment.
So much is changing that I am hesitant to invest in an ultimate solution, so I opt for what gives me the best reproduction for the least amount of money. Hence, the Ayre Codex. 
I use it between a Bluesound Node and my preamp. I can't find anything else for the money that gives me the flexibility and sound quality.
B
I see that - dedicated streaming.  Do you have a cd source?  Looking at DAC players from the suggestions here (and elsewhere) the trickiness associated with jitter - and where the clock impacts the process - etc - is all very complex and not necessarily transparent in product descriptions.

Linn appears to prefer clock-with-dac...but dont get mentioned in the best performer lists..... the NAD M51 is integrated I'd have to dig deep (or trust the Stereophile rankings....and if i store everything on the M52 is it transferrable once the M52 dies???)....Cambridge DAC I guess pairs with their transport like Linn - but with the clock phasing make a difference? will i be able to tell?

amazing that you can spend a fortune (like dcs rossini) on this stuff and I am not sure (to your point) what the longevity is or what the sonic differences (to me ears) may be.

its enough to make you want a glass of wine.....or bourbon.....
I am in agreement with gdnrbob regarding streaming.  I can't overstate how impressed I am with the Tidal streaming service.  I have no need for cds or  the music I have on my hard drive.  I stream Tidal through my pc into the dac on my Simaudio Moon Supernova and cannot believe how good it sounds and  I now have access to  the literally millions of tracks they offer.  They claim 40 million songs and growing each day.  If we say 10 songs per album, that give you 4 million albums to choose from.  If you don't want to utilize a computer, some of the other people here can advise a different device.

I felt the same way about the Mog service before they were gobbled up by Dray, then Itunes/Apple, and they are no more.  I worry that the same thing might happen to Tidal, which as many of you know is owned by Jay z.  
Bryston builds a fine amplifier, and always did. But newer is definitely better. You could do worse than visit the local Bryston dealer and listen to the speakers that he likes to pair with it. Doesn't mean you have to buy that exact system, but most companies retain a similar kind of sound. If you find something you like, you'll be miles ahead, because you can ask more detailed questions; and that reduces risk a lot.
Jammer, I own a Rega Apollo R and a McCormack-Just decent players that I can output to my Ayre Codex.
 To be honest, since I went to streaming, I haven't played a disc in 12 months. Though I probably get better sound from my discs, I can't find much fault with the streaming  services. It is so much nicer to choose from an almost infinite variety of music all at the touch of my keyboard.
Bob
Take a moment to read about the Bluesound Vault 2.  It could be a very powerful upgrade to your system.  The Oppo 105 is a great piece but Oppo is going to start shipping the 205 soon. It's basically a 4k 105.  If you have space for a sub-woofer, look for one with a remote.  Try the sub before you swap out your speakers.  You may be happy with what you have (save a few bucks for a good single malt!).
uncoupling the notion of having a player as part of the system altogether is something of a radical idea for me ..... but it appears the DAC technology (whether Ayre or anyone else) is optimized by ripping a cd to storage ....and to that end I can see why people opt to use their computer, or an external data storage setup.  External drives with 1T or 2T are cheap, most everyone already has some sort of computer with disk reader, and the external drives can be backed up in case of failure very easily.  As long as the file type is FLAC, it appears.  

Setups like the NAD or Bluesound ones appear to offer the advantage of being able to play (or rip) cds (so new content is easily added to storage) but with the drawback of embedded harddrive storage disks (and resident failure/maintenance issues)

an interesting turn of events and thoughts......