Has anyone else ever reached an audio impasse?

Perhaps I should explain -

A friend of mine has a VERY high resolution system which would retail close to the $100K mark. Each component upgrade he has made over the years has been based upon comparison between components. He has built a fantastic system.

Now here is the problem -
Recently he and I compared his source CD player which is the top model currently available under 15K, against a Sony 9000 ES SACD/DVD player. We A/B compared them.

After extended listening, we found the differences to be so minor that it was difficult to detect which was better. We did the comparisons with Redbook CD vs SACD, RedBook vs. Redbook and still the 15K CD player was only marginally (.05%) better.

The 15K CD player had better more expensive interconnects and power cords than the Sony which was using a stock power cord an old Audioquest Topaz (cheap) interconnects.

In previous listening sessions over the past year we had compared the same Sony 9000 CD/DVD/SACD player against MANY other CD players ranging in price from 2000 all the way up to 7000 and on redbook CD's the Sony always got it's butt kicked! It sounded hollow - with a recessed midrange - electronic - over emphasized highs, etc.

Then - I took a 100 Toshiba DVD player to his house and tried it against his 15K CD player. It sounded the same as the Sony. In fact, the 100 Toshiba sounded as good if not better in some ways than the Sony DVD player but...still was .05% out classed by the 15K CD player.

With each source component in these auditions, the soundstage remained VERY large, images were perfect and tonal balance couldn't be better. The subtlety of the changes between the various source components would be best described as perceived rather than actual.

I am curious to know if anyone else has experienced this type of an impasse. I know the $100 DVD player should not sound like the 15K CD player (at least it never did before)
but it does now. Why??

Could there be a bottle-neck somewhere? Could the character of an pre or amplifier be so strong it restricts performance of a source component? What could cause this to happen?

Help please...
This is part of the reason why you see some folks preaching "the preamp is most important". Since ALL source signals must pass through it, it is the gatekeeper to system resolution and sound. Whether or not it is the source of the bottleneck in the system that you mention is unknown. Sean


Thanks for the reply. I agree with you. We have tried various preamps (solid state and tube) and while the preamps have made a significant difference in the character of the sound overall, the differences between source components remains minimal (as described above).

We have been using vaarious high end cables/preamps and amplifiers.

Interesting to note here that with "cheap", sub $1000 preamps, it was simple to notice differences in source components.

As the quality and "performance" of the rest of the system increased, the impact made by various source components seemed to diminish, hence a 100 DVD player seemingly sounds as good as a 15,000 CD player in nearly every way.

Could it also be that the max resolution of the speakers has been acheived?

The speakers being used are Dynaudio Consequence. They are the flagship speaker which preceeded the 90K Evidence. ...So I seriously doubt this theory...

Even if the speakers were maxed out, it seems that soundstage depth, width, etc would change with various players.

What else could cause this?

Have you ever experienced a similar situation?
The biggest difference I find in better digital components is resolution of low frequency information along with a lower noise floor. I do not find much difference in the mids and highs. So how good is the rest of your system as far as noise floor and bass performance? I do not mean amount of bass, I mean quality. That could be the bottle neck??? The differences became even more evident after I added a higher end REL audiophile subwoofer.
I would borrow a good pair of electrostats or two of those modern horn speakers and start experimenting again. After all, width and debth of soundstage isn't all. There is dynamics from pppp to ffff and the rendering of the right timbre of instruments. Try solo instruments, piano, violin, cello and voices- sopranos are especially good at full tilt boogie - and see if you don't notice more of a difference.
Happy listening!
the best preamp i've listened to over an extended period is the boulder 2010. my audio dealer and good friend has one that i've heard with numerous digital and analogue (lp) sources. the boulder makes everything run into it sound better but each source is still quite easily distinguishable from others. it is true that some lowerend dvd and cd players make adequate transports but i find it difficult to imagine that such players used with analogue out would outshine an upperend dac from, say, boulder, dcs, burmester or accuphase. as others have suggested, the impasse you are experiencing may be the speakers in the setup, tho i find that somewhat implausible given the sonic quality of the dynaudios. perhaps the problem lies in the listening environment itself. is the room a dedicated sound room with acoustic treatments or a multi-purpose area with some limiting characteristics? i'd be interested in learning.

this is a fascinating query. i wish i could offer some more advice. -cfb
Would it be too radical to suggest that you try a passive preamp? But if you do, try to make it a good one--a ladder stepped attenuator would be (and in fact has been) my choice. Better still, if you can estimate the attenuation needed for a certain high quality CD, you could try a fixed attenuation network: one series resistor, one parallel (to ground), like each step in a ladder attenuator but without the switch contact. If you try a good passive, you might just conceivably not want to go back to active when the test is done. I've never regretted not going back, after having an active preamp--the CAT SL1 III--that some "experts" used to rave about.
Just because your friend purchased a CDP that’s worth 15k doesn’t necessarily mean that it will sound superior to a less costly CDP (or DVD for that matter). …That said, one would think that a 15K CDP should sound dramatically better than a $100 DVD player. I’d suggest that your friend’s system resolution is either limited by his component synergy or possibly a lesser issue such as digital cable. If not properly terminated impedance mis-matches can cause significant jitter and this would certainly lessen sound quality/differences between source components. I’d stick to something that is truly impedance matched such as: Apogee Digital, Silver Audio, or Stealth’s ‘Varidig’ digital cables.

While my system is worth less than half of your friend’s I’d suggest that if he does not already have dedicated AC and outlets that he do so (separate circuits for digital/analog too). If he’s already done this he should test a few new cables and isolation products (speaker cables, IC's as well as AC/conditioning and isolation/mass loading). And a really cheap tweak is Ring Mat’s CD ‘Statmat’.

Each time I thought that I'd heard my system sound its best I managed to find a step up via the cable/IC/AC/AC conditioning or isolation routes. …No major component changes necessary. Careful auditioning of said accessories (really components in their own rights) have nonetheless brought remarkable results similar to upgrading a major component. I feel that I’ve now maxed-out a few of these routes and will eventually need to upgrade my speakers and possibly associated equipment (I wouldn’t assume that new speakers would necessarily match my current system).

Personally I've found Silversmith Audio to be THE speaker cable of choice – brutally honest and revealing, no euphoria whatsoever. FYI they now come cryogenically treated. I tried Valhalla’s too, but found my preference with the Silversmith's. If your friend hasn't tried or doesn’t already use either of these fine products he should try them (both speaker and IC). I will be auditioning Silversmith IC’s over the holidays, and expect these to offer greater resolution yet.

Regarding isolation I’d say check both rack and shelves. Using racks like Mana Acoustics with Neuance shelves, or an Arcici 'Suspense' rack with an S.A.P. RELAXA 1 (under the source) would provide much improved detail & resolution. Note that these two approaches I am suggesting are largely different in execution, but attempt to arrive at the same end. I have also found that taking measures to isolate speaker and AC cables are also important and can improve many aspects of the reproduction (or conversely – if ignored can significantly pollute, color and smear sonic images).

As a last suggestion I’d recommend Shunyata Research's Hydra and or AC cords. Those that use the ‘FeSi-1000’ compound. The Hydra and CKv2’s are especially good on digital source components. These improved an already quiet noise floor and added a greater sense of ease and air to my system. My attempt to paraphrase Shunyata Research would be to say that the basic function of SR components is to allow unfettered current flow while stopping ‘electronic pollution’ from being transferred between the various components within the system chain.

If these suggestions don’t bring about major improvements in resolution that allow you to hear greater distinctions between source components I’d be mightily surprised. That said, if I have gone over territory you’ve already covered then please excuse my ramblings.

Is your comparison done as a rapid A/B switching back and forth between the two components? My experience is that a rapid A/B methodology obscures the differences between components. Listen for a while, then switch to the other component and listen to the same music.
Tom - good idea. I might try that!

Mike - I kind of agree with you about my friends CD player - its cost and how it "doesn't necessarily" sound better than a less expensive CD or DVD player. But I have to tell you, he wouldn't have purchased it if it didn't sound better.

I feel our choices in interconnects have been well thought out and most systems of this caliber do not use low end components anywhere. One thing this auditioning has enlightened us to is how much the Hydra colors the sound of the system. While we like it on source components, it is too much for the whole system. A haze develops - similar to the sugar coated sweetness common to Acoustic Zen Silver Reference ICs.

Drubin, We were doing A/B switching but NOT back and forth immediately - rapidly. We listened extensively to each source.

What kills me here is with a LOW QUALITY preamp, we are able to hear the difference between the CD players. With a very high-end or even a decent preamp, the difference between the players diminishes. Seems like the better the preamp the less the character of the source matters.

We are using (and rotating) a combination of Valhalla Interconnects, NBS Statement, and Stealth PGS. Speaker cables are AudioNote AN-SPz Kondo. PC's have been Shunyata KC v1 and NBS Statement on source. Electraglide FatMan 2000 K's on Pre and Amps.
Mike aka Awdeeofyle brings up some interesting points along with all of the others. To further extend Mike's comments, i will say that there is a LOT more to building a "killer" system than just having "killer components" regardless of price. I ( and many others ) have noticed that some combo's sound "good" while others perform "magic". A lot of this comes about through trial and error or systematic cable swaps. Whether you want to believe it or not, even Frank Van Alstine ( a renowned "cable curmudgeon" ) had to admit that SOME cable changes CAN alter the performance / sonics of a system to the benefit of the end user.

With that in mind, you might want to try finding what you think is the best digital source for your demands and then tweak it into further compliance with the rest of the system with various cables. This might mean a simple substitution of a digital cable from transport to dac, an analogue cable from dac to pre, substituting both cables, etc.. This SHOULD be done one at a time and then in various combo's. Sometimes you'll find that "fatty" compliments "skinny" and you end up with two well rounded performers with different strengths and weaknesses. The bottom line though is that they compliment each other.

NEVER take for granted that one cable is superior to the others based on brand or price. It just isn't true. We are more worried about system SYNERGY than anything else here. Especially what something costs or how "prestigious" the names are.

When you find the "right" ( actually "most suitable" ) combination of cables with your specific components, you will know it right away. There will be a certain "liquidity", "air", "depth", "detail", "impact", etc... without loosing any bit of "musicality" that many people strive for, but few achieve. Hence the accumulation of TONS of money in a system that just doesn't sound "right". Sean
One more thing: Your "better" preamp might simply present a load that most digital components feel "comfortable" with. As such, they can all perform at peak or near peak performance, making the differences less noticeable. Some would say that this is a bad thing, as it masks subtle differences or "sugar coats" everything. Others would say that it is a good thing, as it brings out the best in even lower priced equipment and narrows the gap in potential. Sean
Sean - thank you for the wisdom. I do not believe we are taking anything for granted or making any presumptions based upon price or brand for cables. Each component and each cable was purchased one-at-a-time based upon synergy and what it gave (or in some cases took) to the system.

The inability to determine various source components from one another has very little to do with synergy at this point. In fact, it has more to do with the validity of this practice of high end audio and system building all together.
Which is why I have called it the "impasse" it seems like the system has been built out to its maximum potential.

In fact, it sounds like a 100K system regardless of source component. SACD's do not sound any better than regular CD's. I know it's strange but this is where we are.

This person first used B&W N 805 speakers and Krell KAV components prior to slowly upgrading and hence building his 100K system. Each step along the way made significant improvements - now it seems that nothing can improve on the system. Certin components only ad color (Hydra) but lend nothing to the musicality of the performance - the clarity - the micro/macro dynamics, liquidity, etc.

Sean, I would have to agree that perhaps the better preamps are somehow enabling the weaker sources and in effect diminishing capabilites of the better sources upstream. This is the only real explaination for what we have experienced. Somewhere there is a "coating" being applied that limits some sources and benefits others.

This impasse seems even more impassable right now.
You say SACDs do not sound better than regular CDs. Do they at least sound different?
You say SACDs do not sound better than regular CDs. Do they at least sound different?
The reason, I suggested trying an ELS speaker was in fact for you to see, if the "coating" still persists, because those kinds of transducers never come close to "coating" the music even ever so slightly. A "positive" result would rule out, that the cause lies in your Dynaudios. Perhaps, as was suggested above, it is indeed your listening room.
I've been in a similar quandary before, which I was also quite unable to resolve, but later learnt to put down to overwork and mental fatigue, which simply closed my ears down for a while.....
Detlof - this might be something we should try. At least it will help us to determine the bottle neck - if any. And you may be correct. We could have been listening too much lately - and become burnt out.

Drubin - CORRECT! SACD's sound almost exactly like the regular CD. In fact in most cases, the regular CD (un-remastered) sounded slightly better than the SACD version.

For instance, the degree that the 15K cd player is better than the $900 SACD player is virtually the same if the SACD is playing a SACD or a redbook CD. AND - if the SACD player is playing a SACD compared to the redbook player with a normal CD.

Likewise, the 100 DVD player sounds only marginally different (better or worse is difficult to determine) than the 15K CD player or the SACD player (with both formats).

This simple test is what has me stumped. It seems that regardless of source component or software, the system has reached a level of resolution with its preamp/amp/cables that cannot be outdone or even altered by the source component. I hesitate to think there is a "bottle neck" but what else could it be?

The easiest and most noticable difference between the various CD (DVD/SACD) players in the past has been the size of the sound stage. Playing the Sony caused the soundstage to collapse dramatically when compared to the 15K cd player.
It took less than a second to hear the difference as it was not subtle.

For whatever reason - now there seems to be no difference. My gut tells me that something we did to improve other areas of the system - somehow adds dimension to the less expensive CD players but doesn't seem to benefit the more expensive CD player as much.

Dont get me wrong - the system sounds fantastic. I am simply in a quandry as I try to figure out why there isn't a more dramatic change in character between the various source units and software.

Detlof may have the answer. Maybe it's those darn Dynaudio's but they are simply one of the finest speakers in existance. 5 way design which ranges from a super tweeter - tweeter - dome midrange - midrange/midbase - dual 10' bass drivers. This speaker should play anything which is thrown at it and if it is the bottle neck, I would be very, very, very, surprised.

Argh!!! This is making my head hurt!
B, I sincerely hope that I'm NOT right. The Dynaudios will play louder, higher, deeper and dynamically punchier than most of the ESL would. However those are unbeaten in the midrange, where most of our finer listening takes place, so I'd try the experiment all the same, if you can. Also, If you cannot get stators, perhaps you could try some of the BBC type monitors, like the Spendor, which have also excellent midrange rendering. Also Maggies would do, I think. Good luck and hopefully it won't spoil your holiday!
If neither you nor your friend can hear an improvement between CD and SACD on his 100K system, then you have both lost your hearing, or you should immediately sell the 100K system and purchase a 20K system, or this is an early April fool's joke. The improvement from CD to SACD is so pronounced that even a mid-fi system should reveal it. Maybe you should introduce another CD player (at the 2k or so level) to the test and listen for differences. It seems that you have a very wide gap among your current candidates. You wouldn't be the first serious listener to discover that an outrageously expensive component just isn't worth it.
Can you distinguish different brands of the same musical instrument?
Which source component sounded more continuous?
What preamp & power amps are you using?
Madisonears - I have been using an AudioMeca Mephisto II CD player myself which is better than Sony SCD-1, Marantz SA-1 100% of the time on redbook vs SACD.

I think that my friends Linn CD12 should be capable enough of a CD player to sound better than a 100 DVD player don't you? Or do you really think I should buy a 2000 cd player to accompany the 1000 Sony? Do I need a fleet of CD players? It seems that my friend has his bases covered with the Three players currently in his home.

This is not a matter of an outrageously expensive component not being worth its cost but is more akin to maxing out a system or perhaps taking it to a level which it cannot surpass or cannot be surpassed I guess.

I mean - one must ponder, how good can sound, sound? Where does it end? Does it? Or do gains in system performance just go on forever?
Pooguy - the comparison has been made with Linn CD12, AudioMeca Mephisto II, Electrocompaniet EMC-1 MK II, Marantz SA-1, Sony 9000ES DVD/SACD/CD, Toshiba $100 DVD player and they all sound quite similar on my friends system. However each unit will sound different on my system - easy to determine & never subtle.

Amps we have used in the past month include Pass Labs X350, Conrad Johnson Premier 8A, McIntosh MC500. Preamps have been Conrad Johnson ART, Supratek Syrah, Electrocompaniet 4.5, Krell HTS, Sony 9000ES.

With the Electrocompaniet and Sony, we could tell the difference between the source components. With the Supratek and ART, everything sounds very good (no matter what source). With the Krell HTS-2 bass is substantially improved and highs get harsh.

We even used an Oracle Turntable vs. The AudioMeca Mephisto and the while the Mephisto sounded better, the difference was minimal - very minimal.

I think Supratek SET amps drive Dynaudio Consequenses is not a good idea. Having a SET drive a difficult load speaker will restrict the performance of SET.
Poorguy - the Supratek Syrah is a preamp.
Maybe LP will have the improvement you want.
Poorguy - As I stated in a previous post, we compared a digital source to an analog source and the difference was very simlar to the difference between various digital sources - nearly nothing. I don't think you are understanding the problem here.
For the record, I "helped" Bwhite a bit in his system building - although, to be quite honest, I doubt he needs much help (he just doesn't know it yet...) - so I have more than a passing interest here. Bryan, how did the CJ pre that I suggested for comparison (ART, I see you picked...nice) compare to the Syrah, price aside? You had said you thought the Syrah was the culprit. Did the ART resolve that pre issue, but leave the alleged synergy issue, leaving you to still focus on source? I get the feeling that you are still ot sure if its pre or CD thats the problem. Frankly, so far, I can't tell either..

Well, I don't know whether its the culprit for the CD anomaly, but I think you may want to listen to Detlof (Hi, Detlof). He knows of where he speaks. And that "where" is, perhaps, about speakers, and particularly in musicality areas. The Dynaudios - beautiful drivers all - are voiced to load the initial transient with energy. This listening bias accentuates detail at the beginning of notes and leads the mind to "see" speed. Some speakers of this bias are spitty and others less so (lessened mechanical artifacts, ie distortion, like the Dynaudios). They are "accurate" to one degree or another, for lack of another word. Many times speakers designed with these listening criteria have performance limitations with regard to spatial qualities (the source sound is favored over the surrounding space). This is not a proportion issue in terms of quantitative measures like size, but an existential issue in terms of deep realism (how the stereo piece catalyzes one to seep deeper into the music, as opposed to thinking too much). To discern this deeper issue, and tune it to greater system integration, and regardless of the CD quandry, you may have to consider that the system you are arranging wants to present you with a musical experience that goes beyond detail-orientated speakers (and their designer's attendant musical values).

Swap in a world class speaker that is not detail-orientated and is not a current black hole for the amp (and, no, B&W's don't count). It may not matter, but I'd be interested in your long and short term reactions.

Asa - thanks for the response. The ART and Syrah are VERY close. Both are extremely liquid and wonderful - but I think the ART has a bit better bass than my Syrah - we haven't had time to do a fair comparison between the two since we have been more focused on the source components which all sound the same.

This is mind blowing and its making us second-guess all the decisions we've made in the past.

Just this morning however, my friend noticed a spark fly between his RCA interconnect and the RCA input on the CJ P8A as he changed interconnects. Shortly thereafter, he saw lots of smoke. Once he shut off power, and removed the interconnects, he found one of his Stealth PGS cables to be 2 1/2 inches shorter and burnt through to the outer mesh. The outer mesh actually changed color from a golden yellow to a crusty brown.

Initially, we thought it was the amp, we did some testing and discovered the wall outlet to be broken - it was cracked inside.

Something tells me the source components will start sounding like themselves again once the power problem is fixed.

An electrician is on the way!
YOW !!!! You bring up a good point about checking our electrical systems and checking what our insurance policies will cover. While i just changed a few outlets myself, i can imagine how fast your buddy's jaw dropped and heart sank when he saw what he did. Let's hope everything is okay. I'm kind of leary of that though, as it would take one helluva lot of juice to actually melt down an interconnect. Sean
My friend had two new dedicated circuits installed. So far there has been no smoke or fire. The electrician wired his system with 10 gague Romex strung to a pair of PS Audio Power Port AC recepticals. I have not listened yet but he claims this made a modest difference regarding the bandwidth of his amplifiers. He says the system seems "cleaner" but still notices no significant differences between source components. Bummer.
Look, I don't mean this as a joke at all: But when did he last have his hearing checked and his ears cleared out? I've had this happen to an audiophile collegue, whose ears had truly clogged up. Well, I thought of bringing this up, though improbable, nothing is impossible and I feel sorry for your friend and the plight he is in.
P.S: if nothing else helps, I would still try the speaker thing.....
I did not read every post, but little was said about the room.

I am not impartial on this subject as I used to sell the product, but it would be very interesting to have someone "SigTech" (digital room correction) the room. I performed thousands of room measurements (and corections) and one of the many benefits of digital room correction is the ability to better hear differences in components up stream. Many of the folsk for whom I demonstrated (on their system) the SigTech were sort of where your friend was/is. That is, they were spending gigantic sums of money and not really moving forward --just got "different" sound.

A specific example which was always easy to demonstrate was the difference in a live recording in a SigTeched versus un-SigTeched room.

One of the ways we can tell a recording is live is because we can hear the recording venue --specifically the delayed/reflected sounds in the recording venue. In most rooms (even those passively treated)the recording venue relections are masked (at least to some degree) by the reflections in the listening room.

So, if one of the differences in two components is, for example, air/space around instruments, the room could be masking some of that. Furthermore, depending on what the room does to the frequency repsonse, the room could be masking subtle frequency variations as well.

I can say this: if your friend has not heard his system with digital room correction APPROPRIATELY DONE, (either with the SigTech or the Tact), he has not heard what his system really sounds like. He may not like what he hears (he would be in a tiny minority) but he would at least hear what he has purchased.

As to why the less expensive pre-amp seemed to highlight the differences, I can not comment.

Anyway, further food for thought.
This evening we removed an AZ power cord from the preamp.
We had forgotten it was back there.

Anyhow - when we removed that power cord from the preamp and replaced with an NBS Statement, things started to open up. We were beginning to hear differences between the CD12 and the $100 Toshiba DVD player. Actually - we heard significant differences. It's amazing how that power cord really disguised things.

Another thing I noticed in this recent audition of many preamps is that the more liquid the preamp, the less inner detail seems to be resolved. Has anyone else ever noticed that? Presuming liquidity is textureless sound, inner-detail often presents itself with a slight texture.

Differences in various CD players are at times subtle but I have found that the best CD players have a certain way of presenting inner-detail which is better than low end CD players. For instance, my Mephisto II is as analog sounding a CD player as one could hope to get (tonight it bested the CD12!) But most of those characteristics take form within the domain of inner-detail.

The liquidity of a good tube preamp seems to diminish the texture required to present the inner-detail hence removing the character of the CD player and thus making it more difficult to notice subtle differences.

I figure this is why the cheap solid state preamps were capable of conveying more of each CD players true character.

The flip side of this is that the cheap CD players which typically sound hollow, have limited focus, are harsh or electronic sounding, benefit tremendously from the better preamp as it will mask the nasties with liquidity.

Make sense?
I considered too much liquid as coloration. That's why I misunderstood Supratek Syrah as a SET power amps.=> SET preamp & SET amp.= too much liquid!? Without auditioning C-J's ART, I was not aggressive to say ART was not neutral enough. Especially stereophile & HP from TAS like ART 2 so much. A passive preamp from EVS or Audio consulting's silver Rock will present you inner details. EVS Nude Attenuator is better than Silver Rock only in terms transparency maybe because reduction of one set of interconnect cable. Silver Rock is better at more consistent dynamic, inner harmonic detail, timeless experience- I don't know if you & your friend have ever had this kind of listening experience.
I spent the better part of the afternoon at my friends house and I can say that with the new dedicated power supplies (one for analog another for digital)... his system has transformed.

Earlier this week we were disappointed by the poor bass performance from tube preamps vs. a Krell HTS home theater processor. Today - I take those gripes back. The Supratek Syrah preamp has better bass (and more realistic) than any of the other preamps I have tried thus far. While it is still liquid and involving, with adequate power, it was ultimately better detailed (GOBS of inner-detail) and portrayed the music in a way I have never heard before. This really makes me want to upgrade to the Cortese since it must be the only preamp out there which can beat the Syrah. The ART is a good preamp but seemed so...dull and lifeless by comparison.

Once again the differences between sources are now VERY easy to detect. I feel almost ashamed of myself for questioning the equipment or the validity of my past decisions.

The problem in this case was not my ears, it was however the simple lack of power.
bwhite: thanks for all your followups. it is often amazin', isn't it, that one, seemingly simple thing can affect the sound of a whole bunch of components. your's is an experience that can teach any number of lessons. it's been interesting for me to be following the saga. -cfb
bwhite, I must underwrite everything cfb has said and wish to thank you myself for all your followups. I've learnt a lot from the unfolding story and am personally glad than all is now well
Cornfedboy and Detlof - you both are quite welcome. I appreciate all the help I received from you and others during this difficult time. I swear, I was on the verge of giving up audio all together. This endeavor really tested my faith. And to think... as a result of my friends experience, I seriously debated selling my system, in favor of a 5.1 channel receiver based home theater system. Yikes!! :)

So... let me thank you all for saving my faith, system, and friend!!!
You see, Bryan, I told you to be patient. In the best systems, both the ears (the mind, actually) and the system have to become accustomed to one another; to gel, so to speak. Until then, the mind has a tendancy to return to its prior state of preferring a more grossly detailed system, as opposed to the harmonic nuance that is much more subtle and requires you to deepen into the music to appreciate - and is what you should be paying for at your level. It are these deep qualities in the experience of listening that I attempted to amplify in you stereo (specifically, for those interested, NBS Pro IC's, Electraglide FatBoy I on [original] amp, CJ Premier 8's to drive the Dynaudios, Supratek with NOS tube complement, AudioNote KSL speaker wire). I can't remember if you got the KSL, but, if not, you should. Also, a Bybee Pro purifier, maybe, might help. Yes, the NBS Statement PC is excellent on digital sources...

I'm glad the Supratek worked out; no one ever likes to recommend something and have it turn out badly. So, how do you like getting the best sounding preamp in the world at $2400? You know, for another $600 you get a phono section that is even better than the line stage. It shames the hiend... BTW, how did the black glass KenRad 6SN7's change things? Or the GZ32 rectifier? I think the Supra is a good 20% better with them in my system, but would be interested in you take since last time we spoke.

Good luck. Glad you've backed away from the cliff.
Thank all of you for providing the valuable suggestions.
Thank BWhite for giving this question.
Mark, yes - I have the KSL's in my system and I am enjoying them tremendously. The KenRad Black Glass tubes sound fantastic but admittedly, I didn't spend much time with the stock Zenith 6SN7's so I cannot make a fair comparison. I am still hunting for a GZ32 (mullard) and look forward to what it adds to the already outstanding capabilities of the Supratek.

I am holding off on power conditioning/filtering components until I get a dedicated outlet (or two) installed.