I'd go for the muse if you can get a good deal on one....
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Swampwalker: I auditioned the stock Muse Model 2 and the upgraded version with some type of added filter and HDCD. The upgraded version had by far the best sound, however it was also laid back in character and would probably be better suited to forward sounding systems (it might be a little boring, though smooth, with the Vandersteen's). The used model that I looked @ (approx. 1.5 years ago) was going for $1800 and the shop ended up selling it at this price, I was told. I do not think that you will find anything in the $500 price range that will better the DAC in your CAL, so will suggest that you demo before purchasing unless you feel that you can resell the DAC(s) easily. I consider the Bel Canto DAC 1.1 to be an upgrade, but it lists for around $1.5K and sells used for $800-$900. I have never experienced the HF problems that Subaguru did with either of my units and can only assume that there was something wrong with his DAC. What exactly do you want to change about the sound? Perhaps just a cable or some isolation components will do the trick. I have tried everything except the kitchen sink on my old CAL and might be able to help if you describe the sound that you are looking for. What is the player resting on and what power cord are you using? Though I only use the CAL as a transport right now, what it rests on still makes a difference in how it sounds.
DK- I've just been going through a general upgrade over the last 2 years, and the CDP is the lone remaining electronic component. My most recent change was a substitution of the 0.5 Rev B for the 0.5 dlx I had previously. It is WAY better, but at first it seemed like the high end was a little too prominent for my taste. I am using HGA silver ICs and Silver Sonic t-14 speaker cables, so that may be some of the issue. I have upgraded the power cords and added a Chang Lightspeed in place of my Monster HTS 200 and that seems to have helped in taming the high end, or maybe it is just that I have gotten used to the new sound. It is more detailed without being artificial and I like that. I suppose I am just chasing the holy grail, i.e., another significant upgrade in sound without a major investment in $. I don't have a realistic way of auditioning equipment, so generally I am looking for well known and well regarded brands that I can re-sell if not satisfied. So far that tactic has served me well. I have added Vibrapods but do NOT have a well-isolated rack. System is in the LR and WAF is a major issue. I also suppose that I am putting off dealing with the other non-upgraded item, my Vandy 2cis. Was second in line for a good deal on some 3A sigs this a.m. (damn!!!) but maybe that is the road I will have to travel. Any recommendations greatly appreciated.
There was a member selling a AN 1.2 ($1.3K), a much more expensive Meitner DAC ($3.8K) and an EVS Millennium II ($1050). After speaking to him, he told me that the Millennium II from EVS was the best of the three. He is now looking at a DAC that costs appr $6K to replace it.
As to the AN kit, it is supposedly a good place to start IF you substitute higher grade parts as you build. I've been told this by several different people that have done so with excellent results. I checked into this unit as i too was considering purchasing one. Sean
Dekay interesting commentary regarding sonic enhancement of transport depending upon isolation product in use - makes sense though.
Question: does an upgrade AC cord also improve sonics of a standalone transport? I wouldn't think so (stock cord should do the trick?) but I don't know & my CD is one-box so I can't try it myself to find out. Thanks
Forget a dac ,sell any digital source you own and find an Aloia cd player.It is the new reference for playback period.I sat for 3 hours yesterday in utter amazement.I have never been so shocked by a component in my 20 years of audio.It surpassed all other front ends including my 20,000.00 turntable.My reference system is about 150,000 us dollars and I never dreamed a single component could make this much difference.Piano sounds exactly like the instrument with the ability to hear all the harmonics with the right timber.The day before I was listining to my sacd player and thinking this is not at all the way a piano sounds and didn't expect cd could ever sound right.How wrong I was.Don't miss this amazing product.