My personal belief is that the upgrade hierarchy follows the signal path. Upgrades at the earliest part of the chain give best results for the money spent. If you are already at the maximum level you intend to go with the source, then the preamp would be next, then the amp, then the speakers. In cabling, the earliest cables in the path will be first, then follow to the next ones, and finally speaker cables. If you feel that you are balanced with all your components and cables, but have one "sore thumb" that is holding everything else back, then you can attend to that first.
To address your specifics, if you feel that your AC power is still not good, then the power upgrade would come first. Then, I would go for the mod on the Wadia. Then mod your VAC. Then the cables. Then the Subwoofer.
My 2 cents.
Naturally, my thinking will contradict Twl's almost to the letter. (It's OK, he's used to this by now :-)
It looks as if you are intent on keeping your amp, and also your speakers. If so, I would say to upgrade the amp first, as it is the last link in the chain that you are considering modifying.
My logic is thus (as I have posted before):
In choosing whatever changes you decide to make ahead of the amp in the system, you will have to audition the results through that amp (and speakers). There are a couple of interelated factors to consider here. First is the transparency of the final links in the system. If the amp mods make it more transparent, then it will be easier to hear and evaluate changes made to the front end components when listened to through the updated amp.
Second is compatability. Whatever balance of qualities pleases you most, if you make your front end choices based on the amp's current sound, and then change the amp later, you run the risk of having a mismatch revealed too late in the game. You have more flexibility and certainty in modding the amp first, then determining the front end changes which will work well with it to create the overall sound you want, with no late surprises.
Based on this logic, here's what I would recommend:
There is no sense in playing around with different tube types before you get the amp upgrades done. Do that, and you may forget about the tube-rolling urge, but if not, you can try that next.
Once the amp is done, focus on the speaker cable choice. The amp and speakers are staying in the system without further changes at that point, and the amp/speaker cable/speakers subsystem will be employed to audition everything before it. The choice of speaker cables is most dependent on the partnering speakers and amp, not the front end sound (especially true in systems with multiple sources, but still true in principle for you). Get this cable optimized next.
Once the amp and speaker cables are done, I would either do the player mod, or better yet, try the power conditioner, and use it on your front end, not just the amp. If you like what it does for your digital, you may decide to forego this mod (this is where I have found balanced power to be most effective). Even if you don't like the results of the PLC on your amp, you may keep it just for the digital. Then get the player mod done if you are still convinced of its worth.
Now that everything else will have been put in place, it's time to wrap it all up by choosing your ultimate interconnects. With the sound of your front end digital subsystem and amp/speaker cable/speakers subsystem updated with mods, new cables, and power conditioning, you can now choose the best IC to connect them and complete the sonic picture accordingly to your taste. (Normally, I would recommend upgrading the IC running to the amp before messing with the front end stuff, so as to make it more revealing of choice options there, but with no preamp, you don't have one IC common to different sources, so you might as well just optimize it for your one source.)
Once you have done all this, sit back and see if you still feel the itch to try a sub, as your bass may have improved somewhat in the meantime. At least if you do audition subs at this point rather than earlier, you'll know whether one can actually improve upon the final configuration of your system, rather than simply providing a band-aid or distraction which wouldn't have been needed (or maybe screw up the synergy) farther down the road.
It's not that I don't understand the school that says 'garbage in, garbage out'. It's that the goal isn't necessarily the most listenable sound today, but trying to put together an entire system with some semblance of a basis in logic and accuracy of the auditioning process. Ideally, I think that means choosing speakers first and working roughly backwards from there by subsystem, particularly in rigs where there will be multiple sources, all of which must be listened to throught the same final links, but which are chosen independently of each other. But it's not always possible to proceed in the ideal fashion, something I've had to contend with lately, after pretty much staying on schedule for a few years.
But that's another story. Good luck however you approach things!
Thanks for taking the time. I have experianced in the past how one component change or one cable swap can profoundly affect the end result. Since my ac is ok and I intend to stay with the Virgo speakers I will most likely do the upgrades to the Wadia and Vac at the same time to max them out and then experiment with speaker cables and interconnects followed by trying different tubes. I prefer not to introduce a preamp to the system due to more variables and the extra expense. Do you think that the volume control on an optimized Wadia will come close to a good quality CDP + preamp or will I need to introduce a good quality preamp in the future ? If you vote for a preamp would you introduce it before or after Wadia mods and what preamp would match well between Wadia and Vac. Thanks
I have no personal experience with the Wadia volume control. It is reputed to be excellent, and is supposedly engineered to encourage just the type of use you are giving it, as is the Wadia output stage. In my own experience, my preamp does not improve on the fidelity of my Theta DAC's direct output, but it's not a totally fair comparision, since the Theta lacks an attenuator. To my mind, if you are happy with your setup and the improvements you plan on making, there would be no reason to invest in a preamp and associated cables if you are not moving to multiple sources in the future. (I wouldn't assume, though, that your AC is automatically 'OK' just because of the dedicated lines and such. Most systems the calibre of yours these days employ some sort of PLC, and though I can't vouch for the Wadia's sensitivity to AC conditions, my experience has been similar to others I've heard about, in that cleaned and balanced AC can make the biggest difference in digital and SS front end components.)
I will discuss the PLC issue with both Great Northern Sound and Vac during future upgrades. I did note a great deal of improvement when I went from standard outlet to the dedicated lines and did not think that much more improvement would be gained with PLC. The Wadia manual discourages the use of PLC and advises going direct and leaving the unit on all the time. They note internal surge protection. I was considering PS Audio 600 PLC for the amp for potential improvement and also surge protection. Would you have any other product advice in this area? Thanks.
Endoit, I have a Wadia 860x, and in the manual it says that it has it's own power conditioner built in; Wadia recommends plugging directly into the wall.
In my system, I didn't like the Wadia direct into my VAC 70/70 mk3. too dry. i'm using my VTL IT85 as a preamp, with 7316 amperex bugle boy tubes, and it sounds just as expansive, yet deeper. Speakers are ML Aerius, which may be part of the reason I don't like my player direct into the VAC.
Dennis the menace, in my system the 860x does not seem overly dry but that could be a function of speakers or cables. When I spoke with Great Northern Sound the recomendation was to run it direct into the amp and I was advised that the upgrades will take this unit close to the 20k seperates. I guess I could send my Manley Stingray integrated back to the factory for a preamp out conversion and a triode operation and use it with the 860x to compare. I plan to continue to use the Stingray in the future in a second system. Have you considered se upgrade to the vac in the future and have you tried different tubes ? My plan is to upgrade mine to se status and in the future potentialy get a second 30/30 and convert them into a monoblock setup. This sure is a fun neurosis.
honestly, I was surprised that I didn't like the Wadia direct. you're right, it must be a function of my speakers or cabling, because the VAC is awesome. I have tried Western Electric, Golden Dragon and JJ 300bs, and I like the JJs the best. Seriously, for this amp, the Western Electric weren't any better than the JJs. I'm sorry I spent the money...
For 6SN7s, I've tried Sylvania VT231, Sylvania 6SN7W (black base), TungSol black glass, round plates, GE 6SN7B, RCA 6SN7A, and KenRad black glass VT231. The KenRads easily won... awesome BIG BIG sound, rich and deep, warm, yet not dark or subdued. The KenRads are awesome...
I have thought about an upgrade to Sig status, but I'm outta cash. Maybe in a year or so. The VAC sounds great as is... I'm going to try and get my turntable working. I'm a total idiot with analog stuff, and this is a good place for me to devote neurotic audio energy, without blowing a hole through my checking account..
Dennis thanks for the tube run down. It will help me narrow down choices when I am ready to roll. The vac is great from the first impression and it was a big improvement over the Manley Stingray which I also enjoyed for 2 years. I will let you know if the 860x mods are worth it once I get them done in the spring. Are you using power conditioning with the vac?
just an Ultimate Outlet by PS Audio... honestly, not that big of a sound difference for me. I got some aftermarket powercords also, and couldn't hear much with them either. I'm still pretty new, so I may not be very sensitive. Definitely would be interested in hearing your view of the GNS mods on your Wadia. That's definitely more doable then the signature mod at VAC.
I'm also about to try some RCA grey glass VT 231s. I'll post my impression of these when I get them...
I found that using dedicated lines helped a lot. I had an electrician run 3 lines of 10 g romex to 3 ps audio wall outlets. When I switched between the standard vs dedicated the noise was reduced significantly, soundstage got biger and there was an improvement with base deeper and tighter. I found similar improvement when I upgrated to ps audio lab cables but not to the same degree. When I used the new power cords back in non dedicated outlets there was a significant drop in performance. I think in my setup power cords do make the music experiance smoother and just relaxed and more musical. There is no fatigue. I used Tice solo av power conditioner in my set up and it did not do much; if anything there was some loss in dynamics and resolution. That is why I like to hear what others experiance with power conditioners before I consider 1-2k investment.
I have followed your threads in the past, specifically your frustrations regarding the BAT player. When did you get your Wadia and do you plan to send this unit to the GNSC for mods.
i got the Wadia about six weeks ago. it's definitely more what i was looking for in a player, but the improvement coming from the upgraded CD player is still much more subtle than the improvement i got from upgrading my amp. i'm pretty happy with how things are sounding... so not planning on anything in the near future. at least with the cd player. i will have a new preamp coming next year from mick maloney.