Confused as to where to go next...looking for warmth


I hope this is the right place for this posting.  I don't ever post, but do tons of reading and "window shopping."  I have gotten myself into a little bit of analysis paralysis.  I hope that you guys can help clear up the muddy waters for me!

When listening to music, I am using a Bluesound Node 2i, an upgrade over the Apple TV that I was using.  I was using Tidal for both, and now testing a Roon core installed on an Apple computer.
My processor/receiver is an Arcam FMJ AVR 400, but I use it with an external Liberty Audio B2B-100 power amp ([email protected]), driving an older pair of Totem Forest speakers.  I also have a Totem Model 1 signature center for watching tv.  

I want to improve the 2 channel sound of the system.  My impression is that the Forests and Liberty are very revealing and clean sounding.  I don't have the audiophile vocabulary, but I will try.  I think the system is lacking something, it sounds dark, maybe on the clinical side.  I want the music to better come alive and add some warmth, without sacrificing detail and punch.  Hopefully that makes sense.

The Schiit Freya+ has my attention and I have been looking at DACs.  The Freya may add the warmth that I am looking for, and I can run it in home theater bypass for watching movies/TV.  My DAC research has confounded me, however...

The option I would probably go with, if I didn't decider to tech out to you guys, is to get the Freya+ and Gungnir DAC.  That seems like a matched system, eliminates the HT processor from 2 channel listening, and I would think would be a massive improvement.

The DAC confusion started when I started looking at all of the different options out there.  Topping D90, Tubadour, MHDT Orchid, etc.  So much that I started to doubt the Freya even...

I hope that provides enough detail for what I am trying to accomplish.  My budget can be described as towards the best bang for the buck..trying not to spend more than $2000 +/-, hopefully less than that.  Open to used.  Thanks in advance for your input! 

Andy
Dallas, TX 


andy727
Its not the speakers. Your biggest problem, bigger even than digital, is the AVR. Receivers are the worst sound quality components in all of audio, and yet a receiver is miles better than an AVR. 

Your terms are crossed up. Analytical and dark do not go together. Its one or the other. You can be warm and dark, or you can be bright and analytical, but you cannot be analytical and dark.  

I am not about to recommend components here, just point you in the right direction. The biggest, easiest, most cost-effective improvement will be to replace the AVR with a stereo integrated amp. Preferably tube, but if not then at least try and find one of the less analytical sounding SS amps. 

The next most cost-effective move will be springs under everything. Springs will allow you to tune your sound to the amount of warmth or presence you want. They're cheap. See the recent springs under turntables thread with a great discussion on this. They're not just for turntables. Your digital will benefit immensely.

Then look at your wire. Since you know you want warmth then skip everything and look for the best used Synergistic Research you can afford. They're all uniformly excellent for the money and not the least bit cold, sterile, or analytical. They're not truly warm, unless compared with a lot of others that are cold and sterile, which is the majority of what's out there. 
Switch cables to Cardas......................
Thank you, millercarbon and pastorbob.  

I am using Totem speaker cables and Transparent Audio interconnects. 

Maybe cold would be a better term than dark.  The sound is very clear, but it is just lacking something..maybe the presence you mention.

Do you have an issue with the Liberty amp that I am using, or is it more that an integrated would be a more simple setup?

I will take a look at the springs thread and the wires you recommend.
I hear that same cool and slightly dark, somewhat uninterested sound when I stream from Tidal Hi-Fi - compared to vinyl so I get what you mean. You could try adding some wooden cutting boards under your components. It will sweeten things up. The softer the wood, the warmer the sound. Kinda.
Hello @andy727 I have Totem Forest speakers (purchased new 2007), a gen 1 Freya and Gungnir MB...so some reasonable basis for responding to you. The system is posted if you are interested in further detail.

I love the Forests. Sure there are better speakers out there and you can always spend more but I’ve not grown tired of mine. They always step up and reflect improvements made elsewhere in the system. They generate great imaging, generous soundstage width and depth, produce phenomenal bass, are quick, and reproduce subtleties of tone and texture. Music sounds like music from them. I won’t go on so as to avoid nauseating the haters.

Having said all that, what I fought for years was brightness. Those metal dome tweeters could be punishing on poor quality recordings.

Things that GREATLY helped alleviate this in my system (and in no particular order): Gungnir Multibit, burning CDs to hard drive and playing back via Auralic Aries Mini into the Gungnir, Cardas cabling (as pastorbob mentioned), use of Audioquest diagonal speaker hookup (single wiring for bi-wireable speakers), room treatment, attention to speaker placement - distance from one another and from wall behind them, especially), and use of a heavy plinth as foundation for them. I discovered elevating the Forests a good few inches together with some "rake" really helped open up the sound, yet did not (with the other system elements in place as noted) aggravate the brightness issue.

Most recently, I found an Isotek Aquarius power conditioner to greatly benefit sound quality.

I don’t dispute the contribution that amp quality will make on what you hear but I enjoy the Forests with any of 4 very different amps - Merrill Audio Taranis (Class D), Prima Luna Prologue Premium (integrated tube A/B push-pull), Hegel H200 (solid state), and even a "low wpc" (Class A solid state) First Watt F7. Some adjustments, e.g. to placement or speaker hookup might be needed, but the Forests ain’t that fussy (as intended and designed by Vince B.). Things to my ear sound very very good with any of these.

I’ve thrown a laundry list at you. To simplify, the top 2 things I’d suggest starting with are speaker placement and cabling. Borrow some different speaker cable and interconnects from The CableCo.com and see if something might work better for you than the Transparent wire. I’d urge you to first maximize what you can get with your current electronics and then consider upgrading the amp.

Hope this helps and you find what you are looking for from the Forests.



agree w miller

that arcam avr is the major problem - head over shoulders

then, as more minor adjustments...
- try streaming qobuz instead of tidal, its sounds warmer
- gumby is a good idea, or find a used metrum dac, or a neko d100 - all well under a grand
- make sure you are using all copper, no silver/silver coated cabling
Yeah, that AVR needs to be extricated from the loop for good 2-channel performance.  I’m familiar with your Totems and have had the Liberty amp in my system (excellent amp BTW) so pretty sure I know what you’re talking about. The technical term is oomph — a little more heft, weight, and fullness to the sound. Am I on the right track here?

If so, first you want to always listen to your amp in high-bias mode for serious listening if you aren’t already. Next, in your price range the Freya+ is probably a good choice mated to the Orchid DAC, both of which you can tube roll to further dial in the sound to your tastes if you prefer. Both the Schiit and Orchid offer trial periods, which is obviously huge, but I think it’s a good bet these will deliver a big dose of exactly what you’re looking for. Hope this helps, and best of luck.
Can you borrow or demo a really good 2-channel solid state -or- tube stereo preamplifier locally?  

Using the Arcam as a preamp-processor feeding your Liberty Audio B2B-100 mosfet power amplifier is the THE limiting factor to your 2ch audio sound. Even using bypass or direct mode on the Arcam, it's not the same as a really good dedicated stereo preamplifier.   

fyi, I used Totem Signatures for many years in both configurations.  Take those same Totems and put them with a great preamp in front of your LA B2B or pair them up with a great tube preamplifier and your LA amp, it can be a whole different ball game. 
I also suspect that the Arcam is letting the side down. However, there's an easy way to test by using the Bluesound (setting it to variable not fixed volume) straight into the Liberty. If the dark, sterile sound goes away, then sticking with the Node or getting a better DAC will provide a good upgrade.
If you have access to a local dealer, I would try to work with them on achieving what you are looking for.  There is a big difference between buying a good component of the internet and putting together a system that you really like.  My advice is to listen to system that sound good, regardless of price and then let the dealer help you to achieve that sound in your head, but within your budget.  It's good to solicit advice here as you are doing, but nobody knows the sound in your head.  Anyway, that's my 2 cents.  
a lot of great suggestions above on components. I will second the Qobuz over Tidal recommendation. I did a 30 day trial of both and was loving the Tidal selections and the whole MQA thing, but my system sounded bright. When I did more A/B comparisons I found that Tidal seemed to have some extra processing and it resulted in a brighter more forward sounding recordings. I kept Qobuz and I am very happy with it. 
Thanks everyone for the advice.  On of the reasons I was looking at the Freya was to get the AVR out of the loop, but sounds like overwhelmingly that getting it out of the system is critical.  

@ghosthouse  You've given me alot to think about, thank you...going to check on those cables, and maybe play with elevating the speakers.  I have some granite blocks that I can try.  

I've played with placement, it does make a huge difference..but my wife doesn't like the speaker blocking the path into the living room, so they get pushed back and forth alot.    

@noromance All of my equipment is on wood - floors, furniture.  Wood cutting boards, springs...seems funny, but easy things to try. 

@jjss49 , @jmphotography  I signed up for Qobuz trial, will give that shot.  Will look into those dacs, jjss.

@soix "The technical term is oomph" - YES!  lol.  The amp does stay in high bias.  Good to hear the continued support for the Freya.

@decooney , @chayro Good idea to see what is available locally.

@motokokusanagi I will try running the Node directly to the amp this morning...good idea I never thought of.

Lots to play with this morning.  Thanks again.  
andy727 -

Please update as things progress. 
One additional comment re placement (definitely understand about your wife's preference)...

Though distance from the wall behind will affect sound quality, I found distance between the Forests to also have a huge impact.  Maybe "huge-er", in some ways.  One of the reviewers (Tone?  Audiophilia?) had commented about "pay attention to spacing Vince uses at shows" or words to that effect and noted how sound locked in when you found the correct distance between the two. 

If you have the flexibility, try moving the Forests to as little as 6 or even 5 feet apart.  Do this gradually.  When I first discovered "the closer-together sweet spot" I was shocked by the immediate step-change in bass.  Lyrics (even from Mark Knophler who my wife calls, "the mumbler") were also suddenly much more intelligible.  Closer together if you can do it might give you that "oomph" you feel is missing.  I think the tendency is to space speakers too far apart.


So I just connected the Node directly to the B2B..immediately the music sounds bigger, though some tracks sound hollow.  Is it possible that Qobuz sounds better through Roon than BluOs?  Thats the definite impression I have rn.  Fun thing to try and seals the point to get the AVR out of the system.
andy

seeing your earlier response below -- the ’fix the room’ input you have rec'd seems pretty key

softening the hard surfaces (rugs, curtains, fabric couches/cushions...and of course, audiophile treatments) will definitely increase warmth and also focus

think that is more important than other tweaks or equipment swaps
ghosthouse, That is an issue with our furniture.  We have a very long low console that dictates the speakers be 9' apart.  I could put them in front of the console, but then they would really be in the middle of the room.  Maybe I need to put the 2 channel system somewhere else in the house..
Another factor is that we are probably building a new house next year, so doing anything too crazy to this one is out of the question for now..  The new house will have acoustics in mind when we design it.
Hello again...Domestic harmony takes priority over the audio kind.  For experimentation purposes though, can you move them out temporarily?  I'd start as little as 5 feet apart inside wall to inside wall.  If you don't hear something significantly better there, try gradually moving them apart.  When you hit "the spot" the change for better in SQ should jump out at you.  Even if you can't leave them there long term, you'll know what they can do when optimally placed.  Meat on the bones and a real "palpability" to sound is definitely something you should be getting from the Forests.  
Yes, I will give that a try, even if temporary.  Thanks again.
Thanks everyone for the advice.  On of the reasons I was looking at the Freya was to get the AVR out of the loop, but sounds like overwhelmingly that getting it out of the system is critical.  

It sure is. Back when first building my system the AVR thing cost me dearly. There's a huge marketing push behind AVR, and HT in general. In the process of buying my first one I went around listening to a lot of them. Along the way I would sometimes listen to an integrated. Or bring one home to audition. They never came anywhere close to my ancient Kenwood integrated.  

So I tried better quality processors. Because, we must have surround! According to all the marketing.... Better and better, even some really expensive ones, yet none could match my ancient 1970's Kenwood! Not because the Kenwood was so great either. It wasn't. But surround, its just not for audiophiles. Not for music. Not even for movies. Not really. Not if you care about sound quality. 

The minute I dropped the surround requirement boom! Now there's all kinds of great sounding options! Integrateds are the most cost effective, best performance for the dollar. You can get an incredible high quality sound from a good integrated. https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367 Read the reviews. Notice the most recent one, his reaction is due to a system so much warmer than he ever heard - yet it was detailed enough so when he went home he found himself longing for that nice round warm full sound. 

One way you get there is simplicity. The more stuff crammed into a box the harder it is to keep noise from one thing leaking into another. Power supplies are critical, and more things means more demands on the power supply. Also its quality matters more than anything else and the fewer things you have, the easier it is to have them be high quality. This goes whether its speakers  where $5k buys you two awesome speakers- or 7 mediocre ones- or even all the way down to parts where a few really high quality caps sounds way better than a box stuffed with hundreds.  

The sound quality you're looking for, warm, is a balance between the detail of the initial attack of a note and the round warm tone of its fundamental. Cymbals in real life go tinnnggggg, its cheap power supplies, caps, and noise that make them sound like they go tisss. The sound you want is the difference between a guitar where you feel the string plucked and then the body of the guitar resonate full and warm, and the sound of some guy running his fingernails over a washboard. Which sad to say is a lot of systems.  

This obviously is all very general info. But its the kind of info I have found to be very useful over the years.

@andy727
Part of the added grain and lack of finesse you are hearing starts with the Node2i itself, using it's own native 24/192 Burr Brown internal DAC. 

It's a fair throw-in DAC for what you pay for the 2i platform, AND there is a COAX out on the back for a reason, an option so you add-on a much better DAC to get you closer in the smoothness direction you are looking for.  See other Node2i threads.  Start at the source before changing downstream. 
I pulled the speakers out in front of the console to get them to 5.5' apart..this reveled a much more pronounced soundstage.  I can probably tweak them a bit more, but this was an immediate improvement.  Coupled with going from the Node direct to the B2B was a huge improvement.

I know the Node's DAC is a limitation, so now on to a new DAC, cables, and line stage.  I found a Gungnir at a good price, so I am tempted to grab it.

@millercarbon, Great information and insight.  that is an impressive system!  I got intrigued by the Tekton speakers when everyone was reviewing them not too long ago.  To your point, I have a 2 channel system in my office.  Musical Fidelity M1SDAC and two M1pwr amps as mono blocks powering Totem Model 1's.  I never do this, but watched a movie through an Apple TV running into the 2ch system the other day.  (It usually runs CNBC all day in silence.)  I didn't miss having surround at all. In some ways, this little system sounds better than my big one.  Now that I am addressing the main system, hopefully not for long..


If you haven't done any room treatment, have a look at REW and "see" where your at as far as system response and room interface is concerned...  Speaker placement is pretty important and REW can "show" what speaker movement does for your overall system response...
Andy, another option is a combined DAC-preamp straight into your power amp. Balanced outputs would be nice, too. Could make your budget go further if you get good synergy. Maybe a Mytek Brooklyn or iFi Pro iDSD; the latter offers a tube buffered output and also could conceivably replace the Node as a streamer.
Andy, 

Thank you for your post.  It seems I am on the same journey of exploration.   I have a Harman Kardon AVR 3700 as my “preamp”.  I have a PS Audio S300 amp, bi-wired to JBL Studio 590s. No center channel (my wife enjoys very full sound).  The surrounds are Infinity R152.  Source is Apple TV TIdal.  So we are very similar in our approach. 
I too feel strongly that the DAC in the AVR is letting the side down.  I auditioned a streaming integrated with Hime Theater Bypass, but I could not justify the incremental increase. 
My next stop is the Bluesound. There is a good review of it from yesterday which you no doubt have seen. BTW. The version of Beethoven’s 5th mentioned in that review is sublime.  After all, it is about the music. 

Looking ahead, I likely will try the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC with the Bluesound as the source.  
Regarding speaker placement, sadly I am able to pull them 5 ft away from the wall and it makes a huge difference.  They sit on 90 year old hard wood planks.

Thanks again for starting this thread as it is very helpful. 
Working from home alone, music has been my salvation. Having most of the world’s music at my finger tips is priceless. 
Keep safe everyone.