Are you considering a Great Northern Sound Mod?

Make sure you read this if you are considering an upgrade from Great Northern Sound Company. I always read opinions written by people like you before I make any new investment in audiophile equipment. Sometimes I’m not sure if the writer really understands what an “audiophile” system is supposed to sound like. I admit that I was once lost in the woods. I thought I understood what audiophile sound was. It turns out I only understood what “great” sound was. I learned what audiophile sound was very recently, and there is a huge difference!

My system consists of a Wadia 860x CD player, a BAT VK500 amplifier, Martin-Logan reQuest speakers, Nordost Quattro Fil interconnects XLR and Nordost SPM Reference speaker cables. In addition, there is a PS Audio P300 feeding the Wadia, one PS Audio 20-amp high current outlet for the speakers and one PS Audio 20-amp high current outlet for the amp. I run the Wadia straight into the VK500, no preamp. If you know what this gear is, you know it has more than enough quality engineered in to make music sound “great”. And for the past few years, music did sound “great”! You also know there are some limitations.

All that has changed for the better. My Wadia 860X recently underwent the “Reference Upgrade”, at Great Northern Sound Company, a Steve Huntley designed modification. I can say without any hesitation that I now own an audiophile system. Incredible amounts of pure music are pouring out of the components and the sound has jumped across an ocean of change.

The Wadia now presents musicians in a holographic array on the soundstage. You can clearly “see” musicians standing at the front, sides and rear of the recorded acoustic. In fact, the sound suspends belief like a great movie or a great book and surrounds you with the recorded acoustic so convincingly you forget you’re listening to a CD. A few nights ago I got up from my listening chair and walked past my CD player to a potted plant because that’s where the voice was coming from. I started to reach toward the plant to change the CD and caught myself!

Make no mistake, I’ve worked my butt off to eliminate improper speaker placement, bad electrical connections and uncontrolled room interactions. I’ve listened to $1,000 through $100K+ systems. I’m a member of the Chicago Audio Society and am blessed with the knowledge, guidance and accomplishments of my contemporaries. My audiophile associates have helped me learn to listen. I’ve learned there is a mountain of difference between different and better and an ocean of difference between “great sound” and “audiophile sound”. Before the GNS Reference upgrade, the system already had focus, fluidity, blackness, air, extended highs and lows, and a wide, deep soundstage. Before the upgrade I already had micro and macro detail and dynamics.

The upgrade resulted in a redefinition of the soundstage itself, a change in the translation of the recorded acoustic. The upgrade resulted in pristine, palpable, living, breathing musicians on a wide, crystal clear sound stage that falls back as far as the CD says to fall back. Musicians sound “alive” in my listening room. I hear music, not the CD. Today, my system’s sound bears no resemblance whatsoever to the “great” sound it produced a month ago. This isn’t a change. This is a transformation!

So, here’s the point. Reliable information is the key to making the right investment and getting the most from your investment. It is clear to me that Great Northern Sound Company is for real. Through the work of Steve Huntley, I hear the true potential of my equipment. Would I recommend a Great Northern Sound Company upgrade? Without a moment of hesitation! And, yes, I’ll be back for the “Statement Upgrade”. As they say, “This changes everything”!

Thanks for the informative note. I have been considering the purchase of a used Wadia 850 or 860 and getting the unit modified by GNSC. Their website is quite nonspecific as to what the upgrades are. What was done with the reference upgrade and how much did it cost? Would the total cost justify this route over something like a ML390 or AA Capitole?
The Audio Society of Minnesota was fortunate to have Steve Huntley as a guest for our May meeting. We learned much from Steve and I left the meeting believing in his philosophy for product upgrades.
His web site does not give detailed information and his explanation is simple. Steve wants his customers to call him or send an email so he can match his services to his customer's desires. He is first and foremost interested in customer satisfaction.

He also gave a demo of his first actual product, the Great Northern Sound PASI. It's a great product at a very reasonable price.
I have to say that your report on the GNS modification is very convincing and motivating. Although I am very surprised about your improvements and description, I do not agree with the fact that you are using such a good system having the Wadia 860 connected directly to your BAT amplifier. I have done this test many times: using the Wadia 860 directly to an ARC VT 200, Sonus Faber Amati speakers and all Siltech cables and the sound was not as good as going through a preamp like an ARC ref 1 or ref 2.
I actually own an Accuphase DP 75V CD player, which I can also connect directly to my Pass X-350, and the sound again is much better going through my ARC ref 1 preamp. Consistently, if you have a top of the line preamp, the sound is richer; you get more details and more sound stage. Unfortunately the theory that less is better does not work !
I am presently considering upgrading with GNS my ARC ref1 instead of moving to the ARC ref2. Thanks for your comments.
I wrote the original post and it tells about half the story in terms of the Wadia's capacity to produce spacious, detailed and holographic sound. Things have improved.

I changed my setup placing my speakers 8' off the back wall and 9' apart. They are toed in so that my listening chair "sees" about 30% of the electrostatic panel. My chair is about 70" back from the front plane of the speakers. The speakers are 36"+ off the sidewall. I would estimate the soundstage to be 36 feet wide and 18 feet deep. I put on the new CD by Yes, entitled "Magnification", with full orchestral accompaniment. Words cannot adequately describe the precision layering and clarity of the instrumentation. It is a spine tingling experience. Startlingly holographic and dynamic. Imagine an orchestra laid out on a soundstage 36' wide and 18' deep in your listening room (mine is in my finished basement).

If any audiophiles reading this live in the Chicago area, you are more than welcome to hear the results for yourself. Let me know.........
I'm very impressed with your comments (and grateful that you took the time to write them up), but I join others in asking, HOW MUCH DOES IT COST??

There are many things that I would LIKE to do for my sound systems that I simply cannot afford. Are we talking $500 or $2500?

Many thanks!

Mark Hubbard
Eureka, CA
I have a friend locally who had a Cal Delta transport modified by Steve and it was a whole new piece. I spoke with Steve 6 months ago and he was very informative.

What I like about Steve is that he was a key designer for Audio Research, Wadia and Cal Audio Labs - so he has broad background and knows where the companies took shortcuts or how to take things to another level.
My "Reference" upgrade was $1,850. There is an upgrade beneath and above mine and the price of the mod you choose (Reference or Standard) is deducted from the next step up so you can upgrade over time.

Sorry for not making that clear.