Empirical Audios Magic Mod

Category: Digital

Unfortunately moments of real magic occur all too seldom in our lives. I am speaking of such magical moments as a late afternoon storm on December 24th with the winds and the clouds disappering just after dark as a full moon comes up to beam down on six inches of newly fallen snow on Christmas eve. I am speaking of the first time your newborn reaches out his or her arms and says Da-Da. I am speaking of being at 40,000 feet over the South Pacific, 500 miles from the nearest surface light on a moonless night and being able to witness more visible stars than one could count in lifetimes. Or perhaps your example would be a first ride on the worlds biggest, fastest roller coaster, or sitting behind the wheel of a V-16 Jaguar XKE for the first time. Or perhaps it might be ... well, you get the idea. In like fashion all of us who suffer from this obsession to seek musical nirvana are constantly looking for that new cable, component, tweek, or whatever that will produce for us a moment of such magic. Sadly such occassions are few and far between.

Some time back I had Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio do some work on my MSB Gold Link III DAC. I was astounded at the immprovement he was able to bring about. To illustrate how good it is consider this, a close friend had just obtained a Musical Fidelity tri-vista DAC 21. This is supposed to essentially be the same DAC as in the Stereophile A rated Musical Fidelity SACD player, only maybe a tad better. Using a Mark Levinsen transport we did an A/B comparison of the two DACs. My Gold Link smoked the Musical Fidelity! With this and having read glowing reports of the results Steve had obtained in modding a Shanling CDT-200 I deecided to let him have a go at my Shanling CDT-100. It came back from Steve in due time but with it came a note sayng that he felt disappointed that he could not bring from it any real magic. Strange, I was completely satisfied and thought it really sounded quite nice (and far, far better than it had before).

Some months earlier I had obtained a Pioneer Elite DV-47a, which for a first generation player of all formats did not sound too bad. Of course since its debut it has been surpassed by later generation products. Nevertheless Steve thought it might have some real potential so I asked him to see just what he could do with it. What I got back bore no sonic resembelence to what I had sent.

Out of the box and turning it on, the room dissolves. I find myself once again in San Francisco, the year is 1971, and I am at 630 Clay Street at Earthquake McGoons. I am sitting next to the stage so close that the late Turk Murphys trombone slide just clears th top of my head on the low notes! I played the disk not once but twice before I could tear myself away. Another disk and suddenly the room became humid, hot, and stuffy, the year is 1964, and I am in New Orleans at Preservation Hall. Sweet Emma (Barret) is at the piano backed up by Cie, Slow Dog, Jim, and the rest. You can taste and feel the French Quarter! Another disk and I am in New York again listening live to (IMHO) the greatest female opera singer of the past 100 years - Joan Sutherland. Only this time I am orchestra front row center , a seat I never was able to afford in real life. The next thing I rcall was my wife calling to me saying that it was nearly 3:00am and that I had been listening to music since 6:00pm (so much for listener fatigue, huh?).

I am fortunate to have a dedicated listening room which has had extensive acoustic treatment. My speakers are VMPS RM-40s and the amps are VTL MB250s operating in triode mode. Both are known for a sweet liquid mid range, good bass, and nice highs. The next day I tried to objectively determine more precicely why I was experiencing this magic. In switching back and forth between the Pioneer and the Shanling I found the following: My previous sound stage had extended almost from one speaker to the other (the speakers bring about 8 feet apart), was about 6 -7 feet high and about 6 feet deep. Changing to the Pioneer the sound stage literally jumped. It moved outward, upward, foreward, and back. It now extended three to four feet outside each speaker, clear up to the 10 foot celling, somewhat forward with the rear wall completely disolving . Depth of sound became uncanny. Immaging has become unbelievable. It seems I can now close my eyes and point to each instrument being played locating exact positions within inches! Detail is incredible, I can hear finger positons being changed on the frets of acoustic stringed instruments. I can hear vocalists taking a breath and I swear in a coule of instances I think I am able to detect Diana Krall moving her head from side to side as she sings. The bass is tight and clean with real punch. The midrange is sweet and liquid without being cloying and the high frequency extension is fabulous. And as if all this was not enough the sound is now against a pure black velvet background of silence. Now I know what Steve means when he says one of his modifications has magic. And this one has it in spades! Thanks Steve.
It would be nice to include some contact info for Steve. I am sure he would appreciate it too. Thanks!
The url for Steves web site is http://www.empiricalaudio.com. Also there is a discussion forum in AudioCircle, go to audiocircle.com and look for Empirical Audio in the Audio Manufacturers section.

An additional comment perhaps is in order. My Pioneer DV-47a also has the tube output stage modification by Modwright which has been so successful. The two modifications in tandem produce relsults that are so similiar that I find it almmst impossible to detect a difference between the sound of tube output using the unit as a CDP and the sound of the the digital output going through my DAC. Steve feels the digital output has a bit more HF extension and air whereas the tubed output has a bit better midrange. I'll be darned if I can tell much difference. To me its a complete wash. A more important point is that in using the unit as a CDP my wife, whose ears are far better than mine, cannot consistantly distinguish (in blind tests) between a number of albums which I happen to have in both formats, one in SACD and one in CD. Thats amazing.
Glad you're so happy with the modded Pioneer 47A! What did you ask Steve to do, improve the digital output or mod the tube output stage as well?
I modded both the ModWright tube output stage and the digital out, as well as the power supply. Also added a SuperTurboclock2.

Empirical Audio