Best upgrade for the money ?

My system is currently comprised of a Sim Audio integrated amplifier, Micromega Stage 2 CD player, and Polk speakers. I'd like to improve the overall sound of my system but don't know where to start. I have good not great interconnects - Wireworld. My speaker cable is MIT(again better than average). I'm using the power cords that came with my equipment. Can anyone suggest where my money might best be spent to upgrade my system. I guess what I'm asking is what would have the most impact for say 500 - 700 dollars. Tweaks, better interconnects, higher end power cords? Any and all input would be helpful. Thanks - Rob
Put a PS Audio 300 in front of that CD player Used around $700
Room treatment and "many" hours spent on speaker placement and equipment isolation techniques. Someone at this site has mentioned a software speaker placement program that retails for around $100.00. Improving these three key factors will leave you dumfounded at how good your present equipment can sound.
PS: I have been applying these teqniques to our cheap little $500.00 mini system (with Polk RT15 speakers) in a spare room that is at this stage pretty much a blank slate and the results are amazing. If only I had this much leeway in the living room (regarding placement) with the main system.
I'd say that your speakers may be the weak link (depending on the model). There are a pair of used Meadowlark Kestrels for sale. Some thing like that might be a good upgrade.
Kuryl: Take a look to the power side. power cords used for 150-180 for master couplers or lower with MIT Z cord II are WAY better power cords compared to most standard ones ... A dedicated power circuit+grounding rod is an excellent cost/performance upgrade if you throw in a Monster HTS 2000 better yet and if you play with room placement of your equipment racks and vibration control on the pre, CD player and your amp you´ll be surprised how much you can still wring out of most gear pieces..... Regards
The Micromega Stage 2 is a week link. I used to have the Micromega Stage 6. which was very nice, and currently have the Micromega Premium DVD2, whcih is awesome ! It is a great cd player too, and an even better audio transport coupled with the Bel Canto DAC-1. Remember that the Stage 2 was the entry level unit in the Stage lineup, and is an "old" piece my today's standards. I've seen a couply Stage 6's go for about $500. Consider looking at a better source, or even maybe an outboard DAC. $800 can easily get you a Bel Canto or Perpetual Technolgies DAC on the used markets. The EAD UltraDsic 2000 cd player is also a very nice unit and goes for less than $1K used. The Rega Planet also goes for cheap too. - Andy
I am unfamiliar with your CD front end, but if it has a digital out an anti-jitter filter might be a very sound investment. Theta digital makes a good one that's not too expensive, and so does camelot technologies (I use theirs). My own system improved from that upgrade significantly. Also added a Monster Power HTS2500 AC conditioning unit that improved things noticeably as well. Good luck. Mark
I agree with getting rid of the mid fi polks for something more hi end. Sell the Polks & throw in another $700 to get somthing decent (there would be many different speakers to choose from which will walk all over the Polks). The Polks simply don't do justice to the rest of your system offense intended.
As a long-time Polk owner, I know how you must be feeling. I was fairly happy with all the models that I owned (s-10, rt-10, rt-12, rt-800) But ultimately, when I decided to upgrade my speakers, I already had everything else in place. Rega Planet, Conrad Johnson PV10AL preamp, Parasound HCA 1000A amplifier, Audioquest Topaz interconnects, and Midnight speaker cables.(I've since uprgaded everything but the Rega)When I dropped the Hales Revelation 3s into the system, I was not immediately "floored" by the overall improvement, as some people claim to be when changing components, although I did immediately notice a difference. WE get used to our "sound" after all, and usually, we tend to like it. Over the next few days, I spent a lot of free time listening, and began to notice details that I had never noticed before in familiar recordings. THe top end was free(er) from grain and the bottom end was awesome, tight and free from attention-grabbing boominess. After a few weeks, I realized that I was now in the presence of a truly special, more refined speaker than before. As someone who is familiar with Polk speakers, I would suggest, that if you like the general characteristics of your sound (imaging, bass response, sounstage, treble smoothness, etc), Keep the speakers. Put some $ into another area of your system that you feel is lacking. I am not familiar with Sim, but I seem to recall that it is fairly well-reviewed. I am not familiar with your front end either, but if it is more than 5 years old, you probably can beat it for not too much money. Or get a DAC. IF you are not happy with the sound you are getting, and want a CHANGE (as opposed to refinement of the current sound) buck up, and start looking at speakers. Dont buy, necessarily, but visit some stores, go out of town to another city, and check out different brands. It took me 8 months to find the right ones (and it turned out that I only kept them for 1.5 years) and that may not have been long enough. Dont walk into a store with any unnecessary pre-conceived notions, like "I want a floorstander" or "I want a 2-way speaker". Just listen. Something will probably catch your ears. If you have to, wait until you can spend more money, or once you have decided what you want, buy used. There's lots of different speakers out there, and chances are, there are some that you will enjoy as much as you have enjoyed your polks, but will match in performance any future upgrades to upstream components. Good luck!!!
I have to agree with Dekay. Room treatments are a must, and everyone ignores the effect a room has on a system. Most people end up buying equipment that sounds good in their room, and never experienced the full potential of the equipment they didn't buy because they never dealt with the anomalies in their acoustic environment. They basically tune their room with electronics, which is very expensive and never really hits the mark unless you just get lucky. Even changing a cable or doing a tweak makes a difference in how your room reacts to your system. Rememeber, speakers move air. If you change the way the speaker moves it, the anomalies in your acoustic environment will react differently. And just about everything you do in front of the speaker does change it. I doubt very much that anyone can claim to have a completely dead room. This really hit home for me today before reading your post. I was one of the first buyers of Argent Room Lenses, and they have been in my system for 5 years. They are the oldest component in my system. Why? Because they apply to every change I make in my system. They are moveable and versatile. Today, I was auditioning the new Audio Magic Clairvoiant power cord ($1500 - review on Sounstage to come). Most of the changes I liked, some I didn't. Then I started moving the room lenses, and was able to "tune out" all of the problems while keeping the improvements. Next, I put some Shakti on-lines on one of the other power cords. Again, some good things, some bad. The Shaktis made things more forward in the soundstage. I moved the center and outer lenses back 6 inches, and voila'....the soundstage deepened. Now the midrange was too recessed. I bought the middle lens forward three inches. Perfect! Now I had the blackness, rich harmonics, and detail without the forward presentation I had before. Without them, I would have never realized the potential of either of these devices. There are many reasons people don't do room treatments. They aren't exactly beautiful if you have to use your stereo room as living space. They aren't as much fun to buy as something that plugs in, hums, gets hot, and has pretty lights. And there is always that intagible "I don't think it will work" because doubters have never ventured there, and it's easier to dismiss the idea than experiment with it and gain the knowledge. I see those people posting comments on this site all the time. Used and sometimes new lenses go for around $600. to $700. Electronic acoustic tuning devices also exist, but are considerably more expensive. They plug in and have the pretty lights, and don't make your living space look like a gothic cathedral like the Room Lenses (my kids dig them, though). Ever read a rave review of one component, and then read a poor review of the same component from a different source? Or did you ever try something that everyone else says is good, but it sucked in your system? Without room treatments, you'll never know how good your next component really is.
Before changing any equipment following Dekay's advice. Speaker placement and vibration issues are the most effective tweaks. Your interconnects and cables are fine, they should be the last thing you need to change. After you address the setup issues your next step is to upgrade your source. But I suggest that you wait until the new digital formats have settled out (maybe 6 to 12 months). Your system can be upgraded, but your budget is insufficient to effect a fundamental change. New cables, cords etc. could help, but they are halfway measures. By this I mean they could produce an improvement in sound in your present system, but they might not survive your next level of upgrade. Be patient and take your time. New equipment is not always the appropriate answer.
What? Are you all from Mars? IT IS THE SPEAKERS!!! Have you ever heard Polk speakers with any thing close to resolution? Depth? Good imaging?
If I were you I would take my Polk speakers to a high end store and compare/contrast them to other speakers. If it's not the speakers I have had the most improvement by adding a Bel Canto Dac-1 and/or the Black Mamba (used)or EEL power cord purchased on auction.
I must agree with all those who suggest speaker placement and room acoustics as a first step. Speaker placement is free, except for your time, and room treatments can be as simple as rugs and curtains or as complex as ASC or EchoBuster acoustic panels and bass traps. Both can make or break a system - no matter how good the equipment. There are a number of web-sites and magazine articles that have helpful tips and hints on how to go about placing speakers. I was, and am still, having a problem with certain bass frequencies. Robert Harley's book on high-end audio talks about room resonance modes (frequencies that are exaggerated due to the room). I used his formulas and calculated the resonance modes. I went to Radio Shack and bought a handy-dandy SPL meter and tested his theories. And what do you know?...the calculated modes matched pretty closely to the measured ones. My point is, that I could have assumed that it was my speakers, or my amp, or my preamp, or...well, you get the picture. Now, an amp with thinner bass would probably work well. But, in my opinion that wouldn't fix the real problem. The room is the real problem. Think about upgrading electronics *after* doing the free stuff...speaker placement and room acoustics (I suppose rugs and curtains aren't exactly free). Whose knows, you might find that your system is as good as you need it to be for the moment.
I've got to agree with Dekay, Glreno, and all who support the need for speaker placement and room treatment. The most important thing about speakers, as with real estate, is Location, Location, Location. Once you've addressed these basics, then take a look (listen?) at your speakers, electronics etc. I have 5 ASC tube traps and 3 ASC panel traps in my listening room, and I consider them essentials. I'd also like to try the room lens. But you don't necessarily have to have the pro products-- like ASC, ie they're sort of expensive. Along with speaker placement, furniture, wall hangings, and anything that will act as diffusors (book cases?) can be useful. Also read Robert Harley's book "The Complete Guide to High End Audio", 2nd edition. This is all IMO. Good Luck. Craig.
I agree, proper speaker placement is critical. If speakers are not properly placed...most notably your imaging, soundstaging & bass performance will suffer greatly. Take the Polks & position them will experience a large sonic improvement. Now I suggest you sell the Polks plus add another $700 to your profit & buy a pair of high end speakers (I can't suggest a particular speaker because I don't know how much you would get for the Polks, but trust me there are many better than Polk). Then take those speakers & position them properly to realize a HUUUUGE sonic improvement over your previous sound.
I agree with all of your postings - the polks are the weakest link. They will be the first to go. Power cables - will I hear a BIG improvement with upgraded ones or is this more of a minor tweak?? The other option I have considered is adding a DAC. How much will this improve things? I'll also start playing with speaker positioning once I decide on a new pair. What's the normal $ amount to spend on a good/not great pair. Thank you all for your input. I now have a place to start. Rob
Rob: Forget about the power cords for now. They will make a relativily minor improvement $ for $ as compared to speaker replacement. You need to decide on your speakers before considering a DAC or anything else. Everything is system dependent in order to achieve some sort of synergy. You can buy good used speakers starting at the $750 range & approach great at the $1500-$2000 range. As an example...I saw a pair of Totem 1's on audiogon for $750 which will blow out your Polk's, however they are limited in the low end. You also need to be care with the efficiecy of the speaker, as I'm not sure how many WPC your amp puts out. Hope this helps.
Get new speakers and get some reasonable power cords later.
Might want to look at paradigm speakers (great bargains and I have seen several steals here on AG)and a power condition (just for the general protection and help in sound. made a great differnce- If you want a reasonable price, monster 3500 is fine - you can get for 1/2 of list on AG or eBay
I agree with almost all of the above suggestions, but no one has yet chimed in to say that one of the best upgardes you can do is to add phono. Get something like a Rega Planar 3 with a Grado or Sumiko Blue Point. It will KILL you Micromega. Even more than speaker placement, vibration isolation, and acoustic treatment of your room, adding vinyl will be a gestalt. You may have forgotten (or, perhaps more likely, never known) how good records are.
I've seen a lot of good advice here especially regarding roomtreatment and vibration control. After that's taken care of my guess is that either splitting off your pre-amp functions to a good unit - tube or solid state- will make a really big difference. If you're not ready for that step, then a speaker upgrade will also make a tremendous difference. I've had a Micromega stage 2 for 5 years and while It's not state of the art, my feeling is the gap is not as large as some would like you to believe. I swapped in the Meridan 508.20 recently, and while it was better, the change was minor compared to what adding my Audible Illusions pre-amp in place of my intergrated's pre(WOW). If your Sim is better than my Arcam 9 was, then I'd start with the speakers.
Speakers are the most important piece in a system. I don't want to run Polk down they are pretty much entry level. i would sell them and try as you are trying to keep the price down I would listen to either the PSB Stratus Gold of some of the Vandersteen (spelling) product. They cost a little more than what you have in mind but it would be worth it. Don't throw good money after bad! Good luck!
The $1.20 Tweak. God knows if it works or not,But my mind thinks it does. And that is what counts.
Go for the Meadowlark Kestrels or something of similar quality. I would not go for Totem 1s although I like them (I have some) unless your amp can deliver a lot of current. Next, start saving for a CD upgrade. You have a nice amp so give it a chance to show what it can do. The tweeks above may give improvement but your money needs to go to speakers and source first.
Well, as usual with this hobby we've run the gambit with opinions so here's mine for what it's worth. I would replace the speakers last, after you have addressed aftermarket cords, possibly dedicated lines to your system unless this is too much of a hassle or expensive in you situation. Power upgrades in my system have always been the biggest bang for the buck. I've Polk 2.3tl's for about 10 years now. I bought Vandy 3A sigs about 9 months ago. Before I bought the Vandy's I was happy with my sound, still am - I have Meridian front end, CJ 17LS pre, Classe CA200 amp and MIT shotgun IC's and 750 speaker wire and aftermarket power cords. I really like the Vandy's but I also really like the Polk's. I had the Polks's back in the system the other day just for fun and I don't lose anything, it is just a little different. I also agree with a poster above that you become accustomed to a particular sould and sonic traits. My philosophy is take your speakers to the higgest level they are capable of reaching and if you get a really high resolution system of electronics go for some new speakers. Good luck.
You must have a good revieling component or overall system like cdp, pre amp, amp, or int. amp and speaker first! Think of it as your reff. you can't blame someting else... in this case I'll take a l@@K @ speaker! I'm not blame on polk speaker but I don't know which one so look around your system I think State-2 and Sim it's not a bad combi. If you going to upglade cables or power in this system go ahead if you can hear the diff. but it'll not going change overall caractelistic! so borrow your friend's speaker or local dealer that you can affort to buy. audition those from your system/room(am I spell those right?) Regards, Rute.
Hi Pops...That's some nice gear you have there, but I'm a little bit thrown back by your statments. Your saying the Polks sound as good as the Vandy's just different??? Although the Vandy's have never been the speaker of my choice (a little bit on the warm side for me) I still think they sound pretty good. I certainly feel they do almost everything more right than the Polks could ever hope to. Vandy's strong suit has always been that they are very open sounding & have excellent imaging & soundstaging capabilties. Something the Polks could never come close to. Not to mention the Vandy's are more nuetral sounding than the Polks. You may want to try replacing your cables if your not hearing these differances. I've always found MIT to be some what veiled. My philosophy is to start with really good speakers (put your $'s there) than slowly put the right matching components in front of them to really get them to sing. To start with mid-fi speakers such as Polks & then put high resolution electronics in front them in my opinion seems a waste. Reason being...simply because those speakers will never allow you to realize the full benifits of high resolution electronics. Rob: your getting an awful lot of information here which can be confusing. Simple rule of thumb is as you may well know...the speakers will affect the sound of any system the most, than the source (CD player, Transport/DAC or phono), preamp, amp, speakers wires, interconnects, lastly power cords. In that order. One other component which would make more sonic improvement than any of the wires is the PS Audio power plant as mention in one of these threads.
Thanks Sagger - Let me clarify myself a little. I should have said the Vandy's are better because I wouldn't have shelled out cash if they weren't. They are in the same vein as the Polk's, a little warm, good imaging but more open. They are my primary speaker now no doubt. But I'm willing to be you never heard these Polks with good ancillary equipment with the SDA portion removed (unplugged). I bought these about 10 years ago because I didn't know any better. I was driving them with a Yamaha receiver so that tells you what I knew about highend then. I have upgraded my amp 3 times, preamp 3 times, CD once, and cables too many times to count. I do disagree with you regarding MIT, I think they are best especially the latest shotguns. My point is every time I made an upgrade the system as a whole improved, sometimes dramatically. I think the Polk's have an uncanny ability to recreate the live experience (as much as possible anyway) in terms of size of images and soundstage. Anyway, call me crazy, because I am a little, but that's my take.
Gotcha Pops... you could be right on the MIT's. I'm more familiar with the older wire.
Way to hang in there POPS.Everybody hears things differently.Love the honesty. I ain't gonna take any side on the Polks;never heard them. I do agree w/Sagger/as do most knowledgable folk. It is hard to start at the top;but if the speaker doesn't reveal enough, what can you actually tell? Most of us have to upgrade incrementally. The room/resonance/placement would be the place to start. Most of the posters have pointed plenty of opinions/just about all good ones.I believe the speakers are the best place to start;again not saying the Polks are the problem.Like Pops's system,he likes what he hears.One needs to decide what you are looking to improve Power chords are seldom system dependent,and you keep them as you upgrade. As in win/win.