Help teach an old dog new tricks


Hi folks, I'm a retired almost 70 former audiophile enthusiast who had gotten away from the hobby aspect of music and systems for 15 or so years and could use some system updating advice. 

Background:  My current system is part old, part somewhat old, and fully balanced via (XLR).  I have an Ayre CX-7e red book player, feeding a Pathos Logos integrated, pushing a nearly 30 year old pair of Kef 104.3 that I've owned since new.  I also have a turntable that I rarely use and will likely retire in the near future.  Being on SS and a small pension, my financial means is adequate but not anywhere near enough to fund most components I'd like to have in my system, so I need to spend my money wisely with a look at probably never substantially upgrading my system again after this go-round.  I've always loved the sound of a decent system driving Harbeth SL5+ (or similar) speakers but not sure I have the coin to make a move on speakers at this time, but would want to have a system that would work well with both the British Kefs and possible future Brit Harbeths. I also know that I've suffered some loss of hearing due to age.  At nearly 70, I'm always mindful of my hearing causing me to reach a point of diminishing returns with money spent vs actual ability to hear the difference sonicly.

Where I want to be:  To date, I have never streamed any music, ever.  I'd like to change that and make music streamed from Tidal, Qobuz, etc. my main source. I've convinced myself that beyond sending my Ayre CD player back to them for a quick 'tune up', my best investment would be a separate DAC (balanced please) and a streaming device that's not computer based.  Would like to control it from an I-pad or other hand held device. I want to stream mostly hi-rez music and would like the ability for DSD and MQA (at least for the first unfolding) to provide some future proofing.  

My listening:  I listen mostly to blues music of all types (from acoustic to blues rock) and quite a bit of jazz vocal standards, American songbook, folk, etc.  Female vocals done right are what engage me most of all.

So here's where I am:   I've very recently ordered a Denafrides 2541 DAC.  It'll be a week or so before I have it here. No ability to test one but the reviews have been strong for an affordable unit ($1,200.)  Knowing that I don't want to get involved with a traditional (Mac/Mini-Mac) computer based system because I have no patience for all the potential issues involved (did I tell you I'm nearly 70 and don't play that well with computers? lol).  So what stand alone device do you recommend as my primary streaming device?  My budget for such device is $1k to $1.5k.  Ease of use, reliability and non-fussiness is what I'm striving for.
I'm open to hearing whatever your suggestions might be, and then I'll sort through them. HELP! and Merry Christmas to all!
northwoods_maine
The biggest bang for the buck will be a loudspeaker change. You have a nice amp that will drive many loudspeakers. I can’t recommend a specific speaker, but I have my favorites. That would bring you up to date, loudspeakers have made good improvements in the last 20 years.
My take...
Buy a Bluesound Node, any iteration is good (I own the original Node-cube, and it works as it should).
Buy an Ayre Codex.
You'll have a wide range of streaming services and the Ayre will give you a higher quality play back than the incorporated Node DAC.
PM me if you want more info. I have no skin the game, but I went through the same experience as you are now embarking upon.
Bob
+1 on a BlueSound for first streamer. A non streaming friend just got a used one for radio and loves it.
They have all web stations, all services including Tidal Connect before most others. The biggest sound difference in streaming is the quality of the DAC.
Northwoods, I am in somewhat of a similar situation in a few regards. I'm 73, have Tinnitus, and loath computers. I haven't seriously considered streaming, but maybe some day I might consider it.

I have a very adequate (well, I consider it much more than adequate) system. I have a fine digital front end, A very nice analog front end, a great tube amplifier, and best of all, some custom Tannoy HPD 315 speakers, and custom-built crossovers. The Tannoy drivers were built in around 1975. I absolutely love them in my large listening room. 

My turntable is a restored Garrard 401, with a Dynavector 501 arm. The system includes Home Theater, and plays multi-channel music discs very well.

Not too much of the system was bought new, much of here on Audiogon. If you wish, you can see my system at "Done For Now", named "The Summit" in virtual systems.

It's what my resources and DIY skills would allow, and some luck with the used audio equipment scene.

Also, I would think your old KEF's would still sound great. Oh, and though my hearing is not at all good, I still enjoy my music as much as ever. I have a friend that just turned 88 in November, and he listens to music at length every day, and really enjoys it. So there's hope for us old timers too.

I hope everything works out for you in the best way possible.

Merry Christmas, regards,
Dan (from way up north on the left coast) 
Go for it. 

I'm 74 and, remarkably, have hearing my audiologist says is better than most 30-year-olds. Starting at age 19 I've gone through most every change in audio reproduction, vinyl, FM radio, reel-to-reel, cassette, CD and now streaming.

Not every step has brought an improvement but streaming Tidal through a BlueSound Node 2i to a Bel Canto DAC is the most satisfying experience of any of the previous ones. Beyond the excellent audio quality the learning experience is a huge benefit, not many days pass without hearing something new and interesting with just a tap on the iPad or a quick search. 
You said your speakers are KEF 104.3. I don’t think they ever made a 104.3. If you meant 104.2, than they are an excellent speaker and would be hard to improve upon without spending a lot. I myself have KEF 104.2s. I have had many speakers over the years and they are still one of my favorite speakers. If you haven’t done it yet, they will need some refurbishing to sound their best. Over time, the ferrofluid drys out in the tweeters and needs to be replaced. KEF actually recommends doing this after about 15 years. This is a simple job and only costs about $10. Also the foam donuts and possibly surrounds, if you have the biwire version, in the bass drivers may need replacing.

Regarding streaming, I don’t use any internet music services but I did do free trials with Amazon, Qobuz, Tidal and Apple. What I do is stream my lossless ripped CDs via WiFi to either of my 4 systems in 4 different rooms. I set this up over 11 years ago initially using a MacBook Pro and currently using a Mac Mini running headless. I purchased a used Mac Mini for $300 about 3 years ago and after initial setup (which took a little over an hour) I haven’t touched it except when I add a new ripped CD. Absolutely no fuss and very reliable. My wife loves it because it is so easy to use. One of the 4 systems is actually her system. We use our iPhones or iPads as remotes to access and select our music files.
I think your system sounds great as it is good components and well matched. Add streaming as suggested above with the Node or similar device and you're all set.
Thanks for all the input.  Let me shorten this up this time.  My Kef 104.2s will stay.  I don't believe I can find speakers that would sound better and be in my price range.  As I said in the first post, the only other consideration (at some future point) would be a lightly used pair of Harbeth HL5+  But that's for later.
My Pathos Logos integrated will stay.  My Ayre CX7e will get a tune up at the factory, and I just purchased a Denafrides 2541 DAC. 

The only thing I'm truly looking for help on is suggestions for a streaming device.  Budget $1k to $1.5K.  Prefer native Tidal and Qobuz, and processing at the DSD128 and MQA (minimum first unfolding).  Roon endpoint also preferred.  Must have balanced outs.  File storage (1-2TB) would be a plus but storage is not a necessity.

I'm not looking to get a streamer/DAC, or a streamer/headphone amp, or streamer/preamp though I realize I might have to have some form of a 'combination' device.   Reliability and ease of set up and use is paramount.
Several of you suggested the Bluesound Node. I hear good things about it musicality but I'm concerned that too many of the remarks/reviews I've read were extremely negative about any 'after the sale' customer service from Bluesound.   I have "0" tolerance for companies who don't offer adequate after the sale help with set up, glitches, or general questions. 

On paper the new Arcam ST60 looks to cover most of my wants and has an MSRP of $1.499.  Any comments/experience with this unit or suggestions of other components I should be looking at?
Thanks in advance for your advice.
Pretty rough to be in north Maine will all  Canadian entries closed.
I created the user name when I lived in Maine, 25 miles from the New Brunswick, CN border.  Lived there on the shore of an undeveloped lake for 12+ years and loved it.  But as old man time marched on, I "aged out" of the snow, ice, sleet, and cold.  I moved to southwest Florida 5 years ago. Best decision I ever made at this stage (almost 70) of my life. 
@northwoods_maine ,
Now that is a change of scenery!
As for Bluesound customer service, I have found them to be very helpful. Though it sometimes takes a few days for them to catch up with emails.
All in all, the Node(original model) still works great. Those times that I needed to contact them were usually due to wireless network issues. So if you are wired directly, and are buying the current model, I don't foresee you having issues.
Plus, the price is right.
Bob
@northwoods_maine , Congratulations on retirement!  Grab yourself a bluesound node 2i for your streamer.  Enjoy your new dac, thats a good one!  Don’t send the Ayre CD player in for service if nothing is wrong with it.

Save the extra $1000 that you wanted to spend on a streamer and whatever $ you were going to spend on the Ayre.  You can use that $ later on if there is something else you want to change in your system or put it towards some harbeths.  Shoot, spend it going to a few live shows once things are back to normal.

You have a nice system by the way!  Pretty cool that 15 years later it’s still a good set-up.
Thanks for the suggestions.

@b_limo - Having no experience with streaming music or downloading Hi-Rez files other than listening to a coupe of systems, I am having an internal argument with myself in regards to keeping the Ayre CDP (and the 300 or so CDs I have) in my system for the future or just bite the bullet and make a compete switch to an all digital front end. On one hand, there’s no need of continuing to buy or play existing CDs when all that music is clearly available via streaming at at least comparable SQ. I think my reluctance to move away from CDs completely is probably just remnants of how hard I worked and saved to be able to purchase the Ayre CX-7e, along with the rest of my equipment. I haven’t gotten a cost estimate from Ayre yet on a simple tune up (not upgrades), but I thought that a bit of coin spent there would allow me to do a comparison to that vs. streaming in my system once I have a streaming device, plus, if I sell it I can advertise that it was just serviced by the factory.
And, yes, I live to listen to live music. Pre-covid, I was going to one of two somewhat local blues venues an average of twice a week, with the occasional foray into rock or country concerts.

Node2i - still very reluctant to buy due to perceived poor service after the sale. This is from the poster right before you, " As for Bluesound customer service, I have found them to be very helpful. Though it sometimes takes a few days for them to catch up with emails." Any company who "takes a few days" to respond to customer service emails shouldn’t still be in business in my opinion. Customer service was under my purview for about 7 years at a Fortune 1000 company I spent most of my career with, and if it took us "a few days" to respond to customer calls or emails I’d have been fired - and deservedly so. In today’s global business model, there’s no room for piss poor customer service.
@northwoods_maine ,
Nice that you posted your Ayre Player. It has the ability to output to an external DAC, via a switch, I believe.
In that case, I would recommend getting either an Ayre Codex.
I have no doubt that you will not only enjoy your CD's more, but also when outputting from the Bluesound Node, should you buy one.
And, considering how many services Bluesound supports, I think they do a pretty good job with customer service. 
Remember, each streaming service uses different protocols. The fact that Bluesound is able to integrate such a diverse field, shows their dedication to their product.
If I were you, I'd buy a used Node. It doesn't have to be the latest model. They all work, and update to the latest software. For a couple hundred bucks, you can try it and decide if it works for you.
If you want to spend more money, then Innuos and Aurender would be my picks. Though Aurender only supports Tidal and Qobuz.
Bob
I’m a nut . At over 80 I stay in cold Minnesota . Went to a funeral in FL last January , and hated the weather .
IMO  NB  is one of the  best places on the planet .
@northwoods_maine  - Sorry, haven't read the whole thread. However, I did see your list of requirements and you mentioned that 1-2Tb of storage would be nice, and you expressed interest in the Bluesound Node2i. If you want the added storage, and the ability to rip your CDs directly to the unit, the Bluesound Vault 2i is essentially the Node 2i with a CD reader/ripper and 2T of storage built-in. Same sound, same features, etc., just adds ripping and on-board storage. Oh, it does require an ethernet connection whereas the Node 2i also support wifi connectivity.
Thanks to all for the advice and suggestions.  My Soekris 2541 DAC just came in the mail today. I had a senior moment last week when I identified the DAC I had ordered as a Denafrides .... I had been considering both but when the new 2541 Soekris came out, that pushed me towards the Soekris line.  Before the day is through, I will have ordered a Node2i, despite my initial concerns about the quality of Bluesound's customer service.  There seems to be a whole lot of enthusiasm in this forum (and one other than I visit) for the Node so I'm gonna give it a try.  So the plan is to use the Node 2i for streaming hi-rez files from Tidal or Qobuz into the Soekris. I'll also run the Ayre CDP through the Soekris.  My Pathos Logos and my Kef 104.2s will anchor the system, at least for now. 

Hopefully within a week I'll have everything up and running.
Congratulation, Northwoods Maine,

Looks like everything is working out great for you. I hope it stays that way for you for the long haul.

Regards, enjoy,
Dan 
Congrats and if you need any help setting up the Node many here can assist.