companies that modify equipment...opinions


hi everyone, im wondering if anyone has opinions on these companies that do mods. this question popped in my head as i have been reading up on modwright sony 5400s/oppos.

i also see that vse (vacuum state electronics in switzerland for example) also does mods on the sony 5400 etc. i also came across some other companies(forgot names) that heavily mod cd players in the united states.

im wondering if anyone knows or has heard and compared performance from the same piece (front ends in particular) but modded by different companies... for example modwright tube mods vs vacuum state electronics level 7 mod on a sony 5400 etc.
what are your preferences and thoughts.

thanks
nineballg
There are 2 types of mods
- those that swap out component parts for boutique parts (you can do that yourself and don't need to pay someone else for that solder job)
- and those that actually change a circuit, or add a better output stage, or a clock mechanism, or a different tube set, and boutique parts.

Modwright started out long ago in the first category, moved to the second one and is now making their own equipment. Red Wine Audio and Empiracle Audio did this too.

Yes, mods do make a difference, and you can get very satisfactory improvements in either category. But again, you are relying on your liking the kind of sound that the modder is shooting for. Same with any componnet.

However, you will pay a hefty premium for mods, and probably not see that back on resale. My suggestion would be to wait for a modded piece to pop up on the used market and try it out. That way you could sell it easily for what you paid if you don't like it.
Ptmconsulting offers good advice.
I have no interest in mods, or modded equipment. It is a fashion statement as much as anything else.
I view it as 'the grass is always greener' effect.
Folks who think they can have an edge. It is like a 'cult'.

Now really some mods work, some are just a waste of time.
I would just go buy a better stock item.
The OP asked for opinions. I am giving mine.

I remember the guy who went for the mod too far. Complaining they ruined his Counerpoint preamp with too many mods.. Apparently changing it into crap.. in his opinion anyway.
So not only did he lose his wonderful preamp, he paid through the nose for doing so too.
This is the sort of foolishness involved in 'modding'
Total crapshoot IMO.

Like I wrote, I would NEVER pay someone to mess around with any electronics I paid a lot for. Period.
Upgrade Company gives money back gaurantees so you may want to add to your list.
As Elizabeth stated, I too have no interest in modifications to original designs and instead prefer to enjoy a given builder's/manufacturer's original intent and execution of a product. If it turns out not to provide long term satisfaction, I find a way to trade out or up to another piece of original gear. And repairs to restore as originaly designed are the only way to go. Mods, no matter what they are, reduce long term resale value. Also, I would always want to know if a previously owned product was modified so that I can steer clear of purchasing it. I have had a couple of bad experiences in this regard and won't purchase modded gear ever again. In fact, there should be a policy that if an Audiogon member sells a piece with undisclosed mods in the offer for sale, and it is determined by the buyer upon receipt that it was indeed modified and undisclosed prior to the sale, then the buyer should have the option of a full refund and return, NO QUESTIONS ASKED!!!
I had no interest in mods until I heard a friend's GNSC modified ARC SP-14.
Reminds me of the saying about 'fools rushing in.....'. I find it amusing to see folks who immediately have a unit mod'd when they haven't even heard it and how often mod'd stuff appears in a for sale ad just after a mod is performed. And, concurrently how seldom we ever see an professional, or even user, A/B analysis of the performance differences.

I agree with Ptmconsulting. Don't mod unless you KNOW what the result WILL BE, not just what some merchant tells you. And, FWIW I would never do a 'mystery' mod, or a mod which is not reversable unless I had actually heard and actual unit in my system in my room. Caveat emptor.
I would respectfully disagree with Ptmconsulting. There is only one type of mod, and that is where the actual circuit paramaters are altered. Substituting a different quality part of the same value is referred to as an upgrade, not a mod. Although many of the modders take liberties by calling upgrades mods. Confusion in the service of marketing.

There is yet a third category of work, restorations. With a restoration NOS parts are used to replace worn or out-of-spec parts, the idea being not to make the piece sound better, but to return it to its original sound.

Nothing wrong with any of them in my book, the problem with all but restorations being that many products are voiced, and this will change the voicing of the product. You may like it better, and you may like it worse. Then there is always the value issue and some of these things are good value, and some not. Some will increase the value of a product, and some will decrease it. It's somewhat of a crap shoot.
Okay guys, and gals, who in our audio world is paying automobile mechanics to modify their cars? Seems the world is now being flooded with people who have chip replacement or 'mods', not to mention all the hardware upgrades that can be done. Some of these 'mods' can turn your car into a death trap. Lesson: for audio and automobiles, skip the mods and enjoy life.
No interest in Mods, will destroy the illusions to own an stock piece.
Certainly they will no find a leaving on my side.
No car mods either audio...
my 2 cents, i am glad to hear so many of you against it!
Great
I have had several friends who have had well known modders modify equipment, and they had to take it to a friend/electronics engineer to fix, and he said the work inside was worse than what he was doing in grade school. A 1500.00 mod, on a preamp added SS parts to a tube preamp???? And a tube preamp modded had paint sprayed inside,and the sound was now more like a transistor preamp. The tube magic was gone. There is a reason I don't buy modded gear, the quality is all over the board. Some mods work, but which ones????? The workmanship I have seen thus far is a disgrace.
I did have a friend with a Sony SCD1 modded, and his turned out good. Not all mods are bad.
Upgrading binding posts, caps, etc. is not a real mod IMHO. It is part swapping or upgrading, the circuit stays the same. It is circuit mods that bother me. jallen
I don't understand the appeal of buying a square peg then attempting to fit it into a round hole.

Just buy the round peg to start with.

Personally, I stay away from third party mods. What happens when something breaks or has a problem? Do you send it to the original maker, the modder, or both to get things fixed the way you want? Who needs this potential additioal aggravation? OR am I missing something here?

If the original designer has something more to offer as a mod or upgrade, that is something I might consider.
"Okay guys, and gals, who in our audio world is paying automobile mechanics to modify their cars?"

A lot more that you might think. There are lots of performance and aesthetic mods for cars available. There have been for 25 years.

I used to mod electronics, for about 12 years. Lots of my modded components are still out there in use and in demand. I get requests every couple of weeks to mod something, but I have to turn them away.

The thing with mods is to find a PROFESSIONAL, usually an engineer or tech from industry, not a parts swapper. Knowing quality parts is a must, but the ability to reverse-engineer a design to improve it and then do a quality job of soldering etc. is critical. There are a lot of hacks out there, just like in the cable business. Even a lot of engineeers cannot solder well.

Mods are essential IMO for most stock gear. It always has shortcomings, usually in the power delivery, resulting in lackluster dynamics or HF roll-off or both. Tube gear is particularly bad for this. Tube designers dont usually pay much attention to the power delivery, as it is less critical than for SS, but they should. Good tube design competes head-to-head with good SS design, only the midrange is just better. Most of the time, you end-up with "tubiness", bass flabbiness and HF roll-off. Tubes dont have to sound like this. Digital gear is also pretty bad stock. Clocks have high jitter and again, the power subsystem sucks. Installing properly a better clock in a Transport makes a world of difference. Also, Most S/PDIF output circuits are poorly designed and dont even meet spec. Only the most experienced Modders can do these mods however.

Everthing that is not Empirical Audio in my system is modded, everything. Stock is just not good enough.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"Just buy the round peg to start with."

Good luck to you. You will not find it. Even the most expensive gear needs mods IMO. This is because even the most talented designer is not an expert in every discipline. Most companies should look outside for consulting or licensing help, but they dont.

"Personally, I stay away from third party mods. What happens when something breaks or has a problem? "

Good modders warranty their work and repair after the warranty expires. I did it for 12 years or more. Just ask my customers.

"Do you send it to the original maker, the modder, or both to get things fixed the way you want?"

Depends. I used to fix most everything, but if someone really fried a Parasound JC-1 for instance, then it would go back to Parasound. They have an agreement with me. I am a dealer that only sells modded JC-1s.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Mods are the very best way to get world class sound for few dollars if you can do them yourself. Great fun for me with huge sonic gains and for little money. I have built and or modified all my gear to great effect.
I suppose its a lot like tweaking except not as easily reversible if things do not work out for the better as intended. There is always more performance that can be squeezed out of anything. THe question is always does it add value? And what are the alternatives? No doubt most mods done right for the right reasons should only take things forward. As should an equipment upgrade as well. It all depends. There are advantages and disadvantages as with most things.
Even the most expensive gear needs mods IMO.
A totally over the top statement, IMO.
There are others like Grannyring who would concur but it is a leap of faith for sure. It's not for everyone and maybe I have just been lucky with my modded gear.
A totally over the top statement, IMO.

I've modded Mark Levinson, Audionote, Apogee, Bremen, Dodson, Electrocompaniet, Meridian, TACT, DEQX and many others. DEQX adopted some my mods and gave me credit.

I also earned best sound of show for two years at RMAF with modded amps.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"Mods are a fashion statement " LOL.
I totally agree with audiengr. a simple tweak almost everyone can do is to replace the cheap cap in series with tweeter with a really high end ones. I replaced the mundorf silver/gold with teflon v-cap in my avantgarde omega duos. the difference is dramatic
"Stock is just not good enough."

So I suppose if you built your own components from scratch then stock would just not be good enough.
J135, You should have heard it before the mod. My friend bought an ARC SP-15 with a GNSC mod and it sounded like crap. I find it interesting that some guy with a soldering iron thinks he knows more about Audio Research than the Audio Research engineers. I had an opportunity to compare CD players with op amp mods and the same CD player without the mod and I preferred the stock player everytime. There was a thread recently by someone that wanted recommendations for internal wire because he wanted a winter project replacing wire and connectors in his amp and preamp. All of this gives you something to seriously think about when buying used equipment.
"If the original designer has something more to offer as a mod or upgrade, that is something I might consider."

I had SMc Audio do a platinum mod on my DNA225, expensive but worth every penny. I would recommend Steve's mods to any McCormick amp owner.
And it's still an over the top statement, IMO.

Equipment at any price level might benefit from a circuit modification, but unless the equipment is defective or dangerous to operate no equipment needs a modification.
I agree totally with audioengr in that it CAN be a great way to go but you better do your homework. This is to say that you shouldn't run out and have a mod performed just because of what you read or heard from others. I also feel it necessary to HEAR prior to purchase. The 1st level mod, changing out caps, resistors etc. for different more expensive ones won't necessarily give you a better end result but it is relatively inexpensive and easier to change back. The one area where improvements can be vastly improved are in the power supply as he mentions but this is risky business, you better know who you are dealing with and not be guessing or hoping about the end result. If in doubt DON'T DO IT! Some of the biggest "bang for buck" improvements in an component can be realized through modifications but again, they aren't all created equally.

The real downside to modifications, as mentioned, is that you will most likely not capture your initial investment unless purchasing used and the modifications have been performed from a known and respected business, cavaet emptor!
" a simple tweak almost everyone can do is to replace the cheap cap in series with tweeter with a really high end ones. I replaced the mundorf silver/gold with teflon v-cap in my avantgarde omega duos. the difference is dramatic "

How would that affect the warranty, if applicable.

Most vendors would not want end users mucking with their gear and then requesting support under warranty I would think.
"I agree totally with audioengr in that it CAN be a great way to go but you better do your homework."

Amen to that!

TO do the homework, one best be sure they are qualified or able to do it correctly as well!

I have no doubt Audioengr is qualified and knows not only what to do to do it right but what to do if something should go wrong. After, all, I believe that is his job.
You better be willing to invest the time needed to accomplish all this properly.

How many of us not in the home audio design and engineering business, like myself, can say the same thing? Are we better qualified than the engineers at say Audio Research to make these decisions regarding their products and do it right?

If so, maybe a particular companies products aren't all that great to start with and another should be considered.

I might consider letting a third party do such modifications, if they are currently endorsed or supported by the original makers to the extent of making certain mods without invalidating the warranty policy. Otherwise, I feel I might be wading into waters too deep for me personally to assess properly, especially if things head south.
"So I suppose if you built your own components from scratch then stock would just not be good enough."

Like I sad, I dont mod anymore. But I do build all of my own components now, because my customers bugged me for years to do this. See my website.

And I do mod my own components. They change and upgrade often, and I offer new upgrades frequently. It's not like other companies that market a product assembled in the thousands in China that cannot be changed for the life of the product. I build in 100 qty typically and make my products modular so the modules can be improved or updated to keep up with the moving technology. This makes it so I can react to improved parts, technologies and mods to keep my products at the top of my game.

Some of my customers have had three generations or more of my products and never had to replace them, just update them with newer modules and tweaks. This saves them money, and gives them confidence that the new version will actually be better than what they had before. Lower risk.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"it is a leap of faith for sure"

Not really, if you do your homework and read the reviews from the customers and reviewers. Make sure that you select a reputable, experienced modder. You should see the quality of the workmanship first before committing.

When I used to mod, I did mods on components from customers world-wide, not just in the US and Canada. They trusted me.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Mapman - you talk like the engineers at the larger high-end audio companies are gods and somehow know all. Could not be further from the truth. If these guys were really that good, particularly with digital design, they would have much better jobs in the computer industry and get stock options from Apple etc.. They would not be at small companies doing low-volume consumer audio.

Even companies like Sony that do high-volume mass-marketed consumer products have issues here. When I modded, I had to fix problems in one Sony DVD/CD player S/PDIF output. On another Sony transport, they actually used the stamped steel chassis as a current return path for a digital signal. It worked, but sounded for s**t. Experienced designers dont make these kinds of mistakes. Large companies often promote their best designers to managers and then the junior designers get to design then products. I've been there. Big mistake IMO.

This perception that the manufacturers know what they are doing in every aspect of the design is a myth. There are a few really good designers out there however, but even they are not good at everything.

I admit that even I am not the best designer at every aspect of the design. This is why I sometimes call on outside experts for consulting and licensing of their designs. This is one way for a small company to achieve world-class designs.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"Mapman - you talk like the engineers at the larger high-end audio companies are gods and somehow know all"

Well, I had a SOny CD player once and it was fair at best.

Don't care for proprietary expensive Apple stuff much either.

The mhdt DACs I use are pretty decent sounding though and appear to have pretty good build quality for reasonable cost.

I know mods can be made to improve but as source only to external DACs Squeezebox Touch punches way above what its modest cost might indicate. Of course, that line has been discontinued. Probably too good to make a profit on as it was. I hope someone else picks up the technology and goes with it. How about you Steve? A lot of people like the Squeeze gadgets! THough a pretty good performer, I suspect a lot of the underlying software may have accumulated a lot of unwanted baggage though over the years and may need to start over. That's a software development task that I would personally find fascinating to undertake!

I have a Denon player/recorder that makes pretty good recordings though I have not used it in over a year to play back since going with music server. No doubt that can be bettered, in that it is not even top of Denon line I suppose.

Its hard to generalize. I do think engineers at certain modest sized specialty companies like AUdio Research and Bel Canto for example do know what they are doing and why they do it the way they do in an attempt to offer quality and value. Obviously, no large company selling to the masses is likely to make the absolute best anything and prefer to leave that niche market to more niche vendors.

THere is always good better, and best. By what margin does the best digital outperform other very good products? For how much more cost? Who will see the value?

ALl these things matter.
"I know mods can be made to improve but as source only to external DACs Squeezebox Touch punches way above what its modest cost might indicate. Of course, that line has been discontinued. Probably too good to make a profit on as it was. I hope someone else picks up the technology and goes with it. How about you Steve?"

It is unlikely that I will produce mass-market source devices. I dont do software anyway.

I actually modded a few Touches in the past for customers, but they were way too fragile inside, easy to damage.

The Sonos is a nice alternative to Touch, and if you add a Synchro-Mesh reclocker, the performance is identical.

Since you named names, why dont you read the review of the AR DAC8. Nice component, but they evidently needed help on the digital part based on the problems exposed. This is actually a really good case-in-point.

"By what margin does the best digital outperform other very good products? For how much more cost?"

Very good question. It turns out that in most cases there is a leap in performance of digital, both cables and DAC/USB components when you get to the $1000-2000 mark. Many consumers dont achieve this leap in performance in their systems for various reasons, but primarily: Poor preamp that masks good SQ and poor digital source with high jitter that screws everything up from the beginning. Another thing that holds back many DACs is the poor implementation of USB interface.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"Since you named names, why dont you read the review of the AR DAC8."

I'll grant that digital is clearly not the forte of Audio Research. Not the first place I would look for the best nor best value digital solutions. I'm sure there are people quite happy with all AR electronics out there, including digital sources though.

As an owner of an ARC tube pre-amp, they can do tube amplification devices pretty well though I would say! :)
Mapman - Agreed, their amps are impressive. They are one of the companies that makes tubes sound as good as SS, only better. BTW, I have a customer with DAC8 that really likes it, but he told me you must only connect one digital source at a time, never two at once. If the reviewer had known this, it might have gotten a better review.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Mapman - you talk like the engineers at the larger high-end audio companies are gods and somehow know all. Could not be further from the truth. If these guys were really that good, particularly with digital design, they would have much better jobs in the computer industry and get stock options from Apple etc.. They would not be at small companies doing low-volume consumer audio.......

This perception that the manufacturers know what they are doing in every aspect of the design is a myth. There are a few really good designers out there however, but even they are not good at everything.....

I wish I could mark this up in neon and have it permanently attached at the top of every page.
Steve knows what he's talking about here folks.
There are a handful of truly brilliant designers in the industry. And, every once in awhile, the industry gets a little "lucky" when someone with experience that goes way beyond the needs of audio decides to contribute their unique skills. But even then, there are areas that can be improved in their designs.
But the idea that the worlds best engineers are designing audio equipment should be laid to rest. I understand how all of the marketing hype (B.S.) and the pricing on a lot of this gear would give that impression. But it just isn't true.
Yes, there are a few world class designers out there. But they are the exception, not the rule.

(by the way, we don't own anything made by Steve. We're just agreeing with him whole heartedly. Our own system was chosen first based on competent design principles and from designers who do have experience well beyond high end audio. And then it was modified with contributions from a variety of other professionals outside the audio industry but with expert knowledge in specific areas of interest to us.)