if you had my system and $2,000 budgeted for an upgrade, where would you spend it?


This post may go a bit beyond analog, as it could encompass other parts of the system, but I am not interested in adding to the digital side of things, so here it is.

As far as I can tell, it seems like the places to spend that $2K would be on a better tonearm or perhaps a preamplifier upgrade.  I may be able to sell my Audio Research LS-25 and upgrade to ARC Ref 3.  As for the tonearm, I could sell the RB202 and get a Michell Tecnoarm, or step it up to an arm for about $1600 (are the Clearaudio arms nice?) and still have a little left over.

Can a tonearm upgrade make a significant sonic improvement?

I am not dying to spend money on an upgrade, and if the benefit of that $2K will be minuscule, I am happy to stay as I am for a while, my system sounds excellent.  But I am curious to know what the experienced people on this site would do the the $2K if they were in my shoes.

Where is the most improvement possible?
Thanks!
Mark

System Gear List:

Amplifier:  Audio Research VT-100 mkII
Preamplifier:  Audio Research LS-25
Phono Stage:  Whest Audio PS.30R
Cartridge:  Lyra Delos
Table:  Michell Engineering Tecnodec with standard RB202 tonearm
DAC:  PS Audio PerfectWave DAC mkII
Power Conditioner:  Shunyata Research Talos
Speakers:  Rockport Technologies Mira Monitors
Subwoofer:  Wisdom Audio SCS
Speaker Cable:  Cardas Audio Cross
Interconnect:  Cardas Audio 300B Microtwin XLR
Digital Music Storage & Player:  Apple Mac Mini + ROON + Hard Drive
Power Cables:  Shunyata Research Venom HC (amp, sub, conditioner)
Power Cables:  Shunyata Research Sidewinder VTX (sources)

My system can be seen here:  https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/5421
marktomaras
A nice looking outfit you have there. And honest, if it's not doing anything wrong, if nothing is eating at you, I'd say leave it alone. Your analog front end is nice, and yes a tone arm can make sonic improvements. Or maybe just sonic differences? There again, unless there is something about the playback that is bothering you, I wouldn't throw money at it hoping for a surprise. If you were hoping for a Graham or Tri-Planier, I might get more excited about it. But that's some real money there! And may be too much for the 'table. 

If if I were you, I'd spend the money on several new albums and some imported beer! Both are guaranteed to make your system sound better! 

Looks like a great system!

While I have no specific suggestions regarding a $2K upgrade, I would recommend that you contact Wisdom Audio and ask them what the apparently unspecified input impedance of the SCS sub is.  Powered subs commonly have relatively low input impedances, and like many ARC preamps your LS-25 (which I assume is what you are driving the sub with) has a recommended minimum load impedance of 20K.

Also, as can be seen in the schematic for the LS-25 at arcdb.ws, its two XLR outputs are wired directly together, and its two RCA outputs are wired directly together and also to pin 2 of the XLR connectors.  Therefore if the input impedance of the sub is particularly low it could be having adverse sonic effects on the signals received by the main speakers as well as by the sub.

Regards,
-- Al
 
Room treatments, in my opinion should be considered at the top of every ones list. Unfortunately they are often neglected.
I would pocket the money until you have a desire to change the speakers or amps - very nice system and great art on the walls. May i ask who makes the cabinet? 
I'd pick Technoarm and the rest would spend for music.
Technoarm has great wiring and definitely a big step up from RB202.

Thank you everyone, for the thoughtful responses so far!

Alpha, I agree, be happy with what I've got!  Beer and vinyl sounds like a good move!

Almarg, excellent insight. I called Wisdom and the impedance is 25k.  Do I have any reason for concern there?

Totem, I have been contemplating some DIY room treatments. Where would you begin?

thanks all,
Mark
skoczylas, I made the art and the cabinet!  If you're in the market for some interesting large format photography, give me a call!
http://www.marktomaras.com
I called Wisdom and the impedance is 25k.  Do I have any reason for concern there?
Good!  I've seen many other powered subs having line-level input impedances as low as 5K or 10K.

Also, fortunately, the input impedance of your power amp is quite high, assuming it is similar to that of the earlier pre-MkII version, which had an input impedance of 100K unbalanced and 200K balanced (presumably corresponding to 100K for each of the two signals in the balanced signal pair).

The parallel combination of 25K and 100K is an impedance of (25 x 100)/(25+100) = 20K, exactly corresponding to the recommended minimum load for the LS-25.  So not a problem!

If you are running a balanced cable to the power amp and an unbalanced cable to the sub, however, I'll add that there may be a very slight degradation in the ability of the power amp to reject "common mode" noise, due to the slight impedance imbalance that would result between the two legs of the balanced signal pair.  My suspicion, though, is that is unlikely to be an audibly significant effect in your setup.  But FWIW I'll mention that if you were to run (or already are running) XLR cables to the sub as well as to the power amp, that possibility would most likely be eliminated since both legs of the balanced signal pair would then presumably be loaded equally.  Although of course the relative quality of the sub's XLR and RCA input circuits, as well as any cable-related differences, are additional variables that enter into the mix.

In any event, enjoy!  Regards,
-- Al  
 
Mark ...

First, where are you going to find an ARC REF-3 for 2000 bucks? 

If I were you, here's what I'd do: I'd spend 500 bucks on Synergistic Research Black fuses for your entire system.

With the other 1500 bucks I'd take the wife on a nice road trip up the coast. This way, you get an improvement in your system far beyond what you can get by spending 2000 bucks on it in other ways and your wife will love you even more ... and at least she'll act like she now enjoys your audio system taking up the entire living room.   

Here's the dialog ... "Hey dear, I was going to spend two thousand dollars to upgrade the audio system but I decided to only spend five hundred dollars on it instead. I was kind of thinking, if your willing, we could spend the left over $1500 on a nice romantic road trip up the coast for a few days. I hear the wine tasting is really great and a friend told me about a couple of wonderful hotels to stay in. What do you say dear, will you make me happy and spend the time being really romantic with me for a few days?"

After 35 years of marriage, one learns these things ... *lol*
Dear marktomaras: as any small speaker the IMD is to high and even that rockport is rockport that IMD is still high a degrade de quality sound you are listening.

If I was you and with those Mira speakers I will buy two powered subwoofers with low and hi-pass filters that can permit to crossover at around 80hz in a way that the Mira only " sees " the frequency range from 80hz and up and the subs from 80hz and down.
Now, you can add that second sub in what you have if the Wisdom has hi-pass filter and if not and you want to continue using subs by Wisdom then you have to add an external crossover.

Maqking any of those two alternatives makes a huge differences in the quality overall sound you are listening right now. Yes, we need two subs connected in true stereo fashion:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/do-you-think-you-need-a-subwoofer/post?postid=310058#310058 

then when you already have this kind of system high resolution with lower distortions you can think not only in a tonearm but better phono stage too.

Well, that's me but you are the owner of the " ball ".

Regards and enjoy the music,
R.


That's a very nice, well thought-out system. I have one suggestion that could be a very noticeable upgrade to your sonics.
You don't say where you are using the Cardas 300B Microtwin ICs, but you can do much better by moving up the Cardas line. 

Cables such as the Clear Sky and Clear Light provide superior dynamics and deep, open imaging. Or move up to the Cross if you want a warmer cable.

Just a thought; IMO they are a weak link compared to your components.

I would get rid of any Cardas in the system once and for all. Then probably the arm.
Inna, why do you dislike Cardas?  What cables do you prefer?
Low rider,  That is a good observation.  I bought all of the Cardas 300B ICs as I needed a decent amount of cables, I and I couldn't spend 8-10 grand on cables.  I figured these would be a good entry level into high-fi cables.  At $200-$300 a pair, these were affordable (in the insane hi-fi world anyway) and I thought would be a huge step above $10 garbage, and hopefully a big step above Best Buy stuff.

Can I get a big boost from improving the IC  for any one source component?  Or do I have to also upgrade the amp, pre, and sub?
Upgrade the Rega tonearm. A used Basis Vector would make a significant difference
I replaced my tonearm wiring and my speaker binding posts with Cardas  ... and the improvement was quite nice. 

Mark ... I wasn't kidding about the fuses. And I'm not the only one. Check this thread out:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/synergistic-red-fuse

I concur w/ inna- Mark.

Cardas are too rolled off to taste. A cable/power cord upgrade is always warranted. ARC and Transparent cabling are sonic matches! Keep me posted and Happy Listening!
I suggest you consider adding an isolation transformer.  If your incoming AC voltage is not stable, add isolation transformer with voltage regulation.

I started with passive power conditioners (Shunyata Hydra Alpha and Furutech e-tp609 x 2) for my main system.  Then I have power supply tube failure in my AR Ref 5SE which blew the speakers' mid-bass drivers.  It was caused by AC line over voltage (I am in 230V country).  I bought Torus AVR30 Wall Mount which does not come with power strips, so I wired the 3 passive power conditioners to AVR30 outputs.  Oh man, what a big difference it makes to background noise and resolution.  It was a very significant upgrade.

Since then, I added Torus RM (isolation only with built-in power strips) to my other systems without any passive power conditioners.

The comment by almarg about impedance matching is very correct.  Initially the output of my AR Ref 5SE goes into Bryston 10B-SUB (10k impedance) which drives MC452 and JL f113 subs.  Too low of impedance cause high frequency roll-off.  I eventually went to passive route (semi DIY fully balanced silver slagleformers) and sold the Ref 5SE.
I'd spend the 2k on stillpoints.
Yes, Cardas is rolled-off, unbalanced, usually has exaggerated and bloated bass, artificial warmth and not really dynamic.
I really like Purist Audio cables. In your place I would try Purist, Stealth and probably better Tara cables. Mid-level, you don't need thousands but you do need hundreds. I would start with the first in chain interconnect and move from there. Power cords too.
markto,
You have good components and that’s my point, you’re not maximizing their potential by using the 300B ICs. You say that you like the overall sound of your system, so you probably do like the Cardas house sound.

I have auditioned Cardas extensively by using The Cable Company’s lending library, so I know your cables. The 300B ICs were my first high-end cable, but they lack depth and dynamics.

Your Cardas Cross spkr. cables present a warm sonic signature, yes? That’s why I mentioned the newer generation of Cardas cables, the "Clear" line. They are very open, more detailed, more 3D, and when combined with your current speaker cables, you would still maintain the current timbre of your system.
You would be surprised how much an upgrade in IC’s can make to a system, especially in your case, going from entry-level to higher-end.

And I’m not trying to sell you on Cardas; I'm recommending an IC upgrade, period.
 I eventually changed from all Cardas to Purist Audio.

So, if I have this right, you are only using these XLR ICs from preamp to amp, and to sub? You would upgrade the preamp/amp cable; it will open up the performance of the ARC gear tremendously. You don’t need a high-priced cable for the sub, it is only reproducing the low-end frequencies. (in fact I would use a more neutral cable for the sub).

Lowrider,  I am using the same Cardas 300B XLR cables for every connection in the system, save for a USB that connects the mac to the dac, which is a transparent performance usb.

There are 4 runs on IC.  Would it make sense / make a difference to change only one to start with, or would I need to change all (save for the sub)?

What would be the order of importance in these connections to effect the most change?

amp - preamp
preamp - phono pre
preamp - dac
preamp - subwoofer

Thanks!
Typically you would start at the source, so preamp to DAC or phono. But there are no rules on where to start; ARC preamp to ARC amp may result in the most dramatic change in sonics. Start with one cable change to see you like the sonic signature.

My suggestion is to audition a few cables by contacting http://thecableco.com/
There's a 5% charge to borrow cables from their lending library, which you'll get back if you make a purchase. Try Cardas, but also audition the Purist Audio Museaus IC ($675 for 1 meter with a very realistic sound).

I've used the Cable Company many times. It's much cheaper than buying cables and reselling them. My system is more modest than yours, but I went with all Purist cables. I couldn't have done that without auditioning them first.

Keep me posted if you decide to upgrade IC's.


As others have said, a very nice looking system and I'll bet it sounds great!
I'd have to ask; are you using any dedicated AC lines from your AC panel? 
Also, what type of AC outlets are you using?
Clean dedicated power with good outlets can upgrade one's system.
I'm just not sure what you are using in that respect.
Also, is all equipment plugged into your Shunyata Research Talos, and some equipment run directly from a different AC outlet ect.?
Hi, thanks Lak, I have a dedicated 20 amp breaker in my house box that feeds a shunyata outlet.  The main house box also has whole house surgery protection, to eliminate that from the audio rack.

The 20 amp circuit has feeds the Shunyata Talos on one outlet, and the other outlet is empty.  All of the other audio gear (amp, pre, phono stage, table, dac, sub) is plugged into the Talos.  The mac mini and hard drive are plugged into a different wall receptacle on a different breaker circuit.
Low rider,

The cable company seems amazing.  Perhaps cables will make the biggest difference.  

In fact, I do not have $2k for an upgrade now, but that doesn't diminish this post one bit!  I am a planner and a researcher, so I like to think about that $2k for a while, perhaps 6 months or more before I pull the trigger.  That said, I may do an experiment to listen to some excellent cables.  perhaps I can switch out the amp-pre and the pre-phono cables together and listen to the source all the way to the amp with better cabling.  I can also switch them to the DAC for testing there.  I think I will call cable company and ask for advice.

thanks!
agree on get rid of the Cardas. If you go with Transparent, their general upgrade recommendation order is source to pre, speaker cable, pre to amp.  Though often a good deal determines the order...
Marktomaras 02-04-2016 10:40pm
Would it make sense / make a difference to change only one to start with, or would I need to change all (save for the sub)?

What would be the order of importance in these connections to effect the most change?

amp - preamp
preamp - phono pre
preamp - dac
preamp - subwoofer
Lowrider57 02-05-2016 2:12am
... there are no rules on where to start; ARC preamp to ARC amp may result in the most dramatic change in sonics. Start with one cable change to see you like the sonic signature.
+1 to Lowrider’s comment.

Also, I wouldn’t discount the importance of the sub cable. For example, its capacitance will affect the signals received by the main power amp just as much as the capacitance of the cable connecting the preamp to the power amp, since both capacitances load the output of the preamp. Also, capacitance is proportional to length, and it appears that the sub cable is the longest of the interconnect cables in your setup. Finally, cable characteristics can affect ground loop issues, which can manifest themselves in ways that are more subtle than the low frequency hum they are most commonly associated with (see no. 3 below). And the possibility of a ground loop issue involving the sub, preamp, and power amp that are interconnected would seem conceivable.

Regarding order of importance, consistent with Lowrider’s comment I don’t think there is much predictability. But FWIW the following factors will work in the direction of increasing the criticality of an interconnect:

1)Higher output impedance of the component driving the cable. In this case that would probably point to the outputs of the preamp.

2)Longer cable length. Nearly all interconnect cable effects are proportional to length.

3)Susceptibility of the particular components to ground loop issues, which is generally not predictable. I’ll mention, though, that in a recent thread here there was an example of a significant sonic issue that turned out to be caused by a ground loop between a CD player and a preamp. The symptoms in that case did NOT involve hum or audible noise.

4)Use of unbalanced rather than balanced cables. Not applicable in this case.

It is common among audiophiles to consider upstream cables, starting with those connecting the outputs of the source, to be more critical than downstream cables. As you can see from the foregoing, I am not a believer in that philosophy.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al

Speajers!!!! You need full range speakers. Your system is great, but you meed speakers. For well under $2000, you can pick up B&W 803 Matrix Series 2 and subs. I have experimented with these for years and they are hard to beat with the right subs. I have totally in phase subs rom B&W DM 16 when they were the top B&W speaker, just before the 801. \
Series 2 or 3 802 don't need subs for around $2000.
 If you are not a B&W fan, at least get three way speakers that will take some power. 
mark-

you have a few nice products by Shunyata. Did you try/demo Shunyata
cables prior to the Cardas?  If so, Transparent cables are a sonic match for ARC gear. Visit a dealer/retailer soon.

Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
You have a wonderful system.

I have no doubt that various incremental changes could make slight improvements for a couple of grand more.

All these suggestions pale however, compared to the one change you must make.

Upgrade your PerfectWave DAC II with the DirectStream DAC kit from PS Audio.

True, it will cost $3K instead of $2K.

But it after it burns in you will begin to realize something amazing.

Everything you heard before on your system was lacking.

And the DirectStream has completely transformed your enjoyment of music.

Beyond all expectation.


@marktomaras,
Based on what I’ve read from some audiophiles that I trust, I would suggest you replace the fuses in your equipment with Synergistic Research Red or Black fuses (30 day return policy if there is no improvement I believe).
See: [url]https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/synergistic-red-fuse[/url] in the Audiogon Forum.
By replacing the fuses you will hear what your system is capable of after about 100 hours of fuse break in time.
At that point if you don’t like what you hear, you can consider some other type of change.
Changing any of the following: interconnects, speaker cable, power cords etc., obviously will create a different sound.
Just wondering if you have plugged your amp directly into the wall outlet, and did that improve the music?

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/synergistic-red-fuse
danvignau, thank you for the input. I think the B&Ws are outclassed by the Rockport speakers and Wisdom sub, but I have daydreamed about a full range floor standing speaker!

jafant, I did not demo any Shunyata audio cables. In fact, I feel I should come clean about my cables, system wide. I never did any proper demos. I simply decided that at some point, I should have reasonable good quality interconnects, and so I began my research. I read a lot, looked at a lot of prices, and in the end, I was romanced by the Cardas story. The 300b cables represented a step above the company's most entry level cables, and they were affordable. For the speakers, I found the Cardas Cross cables to be even a notch up the pecking order, and so I added them to the system. As for power, I started with some Pangea power cables as they were a step above the cheap included cords, and were very affordable. Then I had some budget, and based on a ton of research, reading about PS Audio Powerplants, and looking at Shunyata conditioners, I scored a demo price on a Talos, a 1/2 price close out deal on the sidewinder VTX cables, and added the Venom HC for the more power hungry stuff. Last but not least, I picked up a Transparent performance USB as I was running the computer store cable. So that's the story with my cables. I am getting the feeling that the 300b IC cables are the weakest link, and that stepping those up properly to a better cable, with auditioning different options is a way to go. Any advice now that you have more info?

Mystic river, really? The DSD version is a huge improvement? Of course I have heard that, but is the difference THAT big? Does one need DSD files to realize the improvement? Most of my music is Redbook CD ripped to AIFF, but I do have a nice collection of higher res stuff.

Lak, what is the reasoning that fuses make such a difference?

I am getting the feeling that the 300b IC cables are the weakest link, and that stepping those up properly to a better cable, with auditioning different options is a way to go.
To be sure that what I had to say about cables in my previous post is not misinterpreted, I'll add that I was in no way implying a perception that cables are the weakest link in your system.  Frankly, I don't know what the weakest link is.  As I said in my initial post in the thread, "While I have no specific suggestions regarding a $2K upgrade...."

Good luck.  Regards,
-- Al
 
I said the Cardas 300B cables are a weak link due to the fact that they are an old design Cardas cable. They roll-off the highs, lack low-end extension, and colour the sound. They were replaced by a much better budget cable, the Parsec.

These cables are limiting the sonics of your fine components. My point all along has been that until you decide what that next major upgrade in your system will be, changing to better ICs will make a noticeable improvement.
SOURCE!
I recently purchased an AudioMods tonearm, which is a drop-in replacement for the Rega.  I find it to be a significant improvement over my previous RB300.
Fitmartin, can you elaborate?
"Mystic river, really? The DSD version is a huge improvement? Of course I have heard that, but is the difference THAT big? Does one need DSD files to realize the improvement? Most of my music is Redbook CD ripped to AIFF, but I do have a nice collection of higher res stuff."

1. The DirectStream is the real deal.
2. It does not require DSD files, it plays everything.
3. Don't take my word for it.

PS Audio
Pure DSD done right

Just released! The latest operating system update, Yale Final. Transform your DirectStream, yet again, with this stunning new OS. And, it’s free!

Introducing DirectStream DAC, both Stereophile and Absolute Sound’s Product Of The Year. Hand written, discrete, perfection based conversion that uncovers all the missing information hiding in your digital audio media for all these years. CD’s, downloads, high-resolution PCM or DSD based media are expertly upsampled in the DirectStream to ten times DSD rate and output as pure analog directly into your amplifier or preamplifier. Classic PCM based DACS, including many of today’s DACS that can also process DSD, tend to cover up some of the subtle musical details buried deep within digital audio music; a problem inherent in their architecture. DirectStream solves this problem by employing a pure DSD single-bit approach for both PCM as well as DSD media. This means that your entire library of music can finally reveal all the music and subtle low level details buried deep within its core. Imagine going to a recording studio and listening to a master tape of any recording made. This is the experience DirectStream provides its owners who enjoy a renewed sense of enjoyment and discovery when listening to everything in their library: CD’s, downloads, DSD.

http://www.psaudio.com/directstream-dac/

Part Time Audiophile
Hottest thing to come out of PS since forever
The DirectStream DAC is the hottest thing to come of PS Audio since forever. This unconventional design, even as it does all manner of violence to the heart of the purist with all of his “do nothing to the signal” whining, just kills it. Its performance is on par with some of the very best “traditional” designs on the market, and with its potential for endless upgradability, the DirectStream is revolutionary.

https://parttimeaudiophile.com/2015/04/11/review-ps-audio-directstream-dsd-dac/

Stereophile
Art Dudley
Time will tell if and when these levels of performance, flexibility, and luxury will become available for less than $6000. But today, for those who've waited for a computer-friendly DAC that offers, with every type of music file, the best musicality of which DSD is capable, the PerfectWave DirectStream may be in a class by itself.

http://www.stereophile.com/content/ps-audio-perfectwave-directstream-da-processor#WVXu7Rd9H0hciixc.9... 

The Absolute Sound
Easily the best DAC I've ever heard in my system
DirectStream’s easily the best DAC I’ve ever heard in my system, making digitally-recorded music sound better than I’ve ever heard it.

http://www.psaudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/TAS-Review.pdf
 
Hi Fi PLus
Chris Martens
The real magic of this DAC may centre on its handling of PCM material—material the DAC gives greater smoothness, fluidity, dimensionality, and elegance than it might otherwise have had. I don’t mean to suggest by this that traditional PCM playback methods cannot or do not sound perfectly good in their own right, because they certainly can and do. But if PCM playback has an identifiable ‘failure mode’ it might be that PCM files can at times sound a bit flat and 2-dimensional, while exhibiting subtly edgy and/or mechanical qualities that tend to hold the listener at arm’s length from the music. ... I will tell you that it makes these sorts of playback problems better—and sometimes eliminates them almost completely.

http://www.hifiplus.com/articles/ps-audio-perfectwave-disc-transportdirectstream-dac-with-pikes-peak...
 
Audiophilia
PS Audio achieves the impossible
The DS is a game changer; I think it has caused the ‘war’ between DSD and PCM to be on hold or mute for most of us, and above all hold your horses before buying expensive high-resolution PCM files or DSD. That alone is a major accomplishment.

http://www.audiophilia.com.vs5.korax.net/wp/?p=13620
 
Home Theater Review
the best sound I have heard in my system. Kudos to Ted and Paul
The DirectStream DAC is one of the finest-sounding DACs I have heard. Many will be excited just to see that it can accept DSD signals, but I would say that they are being shortsighted. The DSD processing of all signals is what makes this unit special.

http://hometheaterreview.com/ps-audio-directstream-network-audio-player-and-dac/ 

AV Magazine (South Africa)
It sets a new benchmark in my books
The PS Audio DirectStream is a musically authentic, thoroughly engaging and ultimately compelling DAC that elevates the listening experience to an entirely new level. Its treatment of any digital material, regardless of format, is quite astounding — even MP3s and Internet radio sounded vibrant and exciting.

http://www.psaudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/PS-Audio.pdf
 
Stereo Magazine (Germany)
100 out of 100
Matthias Böde of Germany's Stereo Magazine gives DirectStream 100 out of 100 points. The article is in German, but it can easily be translated and viewed if German's not your native language.

http://www.psaudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/PS-Audio-Stereo-11-2014.pdf
 
6 Moons
The best way we've yet encountered to turn digital into music
But what happened now was beyond our expectations. Maybe we had been lulled into a bit of been-there-done-that reviewer fatigue but the DirectStream’s handling of this CD became a rude wakeup call and put us back on edge to eat crow. Damn, the performances of the various groups and soloists were so real and at such dynamic range, it was hard to believe that the source material was a simple 16/44.1 Redbook CD.

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews2/psaudio/1.html
 
AudioStream
There was an amazing sense of purity to the DirectStream's way with music as if everything and anything extraneous had been stripped away.
Even at low listening levels, music retained its character with no sense of the sound washing out. For those people looking for a direct-to-amp DAC/Digital Preamp, consider the DirectStream a solid contender.

http://www.audiostream.com/content/ps-audio-directstream-dac#6X70AvjzSiVwa6lk.97 

Stereo Times
the PS Audio DirectStream is the most musically and technically capable device of any type that I’ve ever had the pleasure to evaluate
After listening to the PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DAC for the past few months it is my opinion that DirectStream represents a new benchmark in audio reproduction. Notice that I didn’t say “digital audio reproduction.” In other words, in my view the PS Audio DirectStream is the most musically and technically capable device of any type that I’ve ever had the pleasure to evaluate. My heartfelt congratulations go out to Paul McGowan, Ted Smith, and PS Audio’s excellent design team for making DirectStream a reality for those of us who truly love our music.

http://www.stereotimes.com/post/ps-audio-perfectwave-directstream-dac/
 
Positive Feedback
this bloody DAC, DSD to the fore, is a real killer. Flat-out, stone-cold, and damn-straight
This is a brilliant design, with exceptional execution, and paradigm-setting sound.I can tell you, this bloody DAC, DSD to the fore, is a real killer. Flat-out, stone-cold, and damn-straight.It has been a while since 2008, but now I have to say that the DirectStream DAC is the first real rival to Playback Designs that I've heard. It goes right to the top of my heap of DSD DACs, right next door to the PD Series-3.The envelope for the audio arts has moved out yet again. To tell you the truth, I couldn't be more pleased! This is good for music, for our recordings, and for us all.And that is the highest compliment that I can pay to PS Audio's breakthrough product….

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue74/psaudio_directstream.htm 

Bit Perfect
The DirectStream’s sound is non-fatiguing in an almost tube-like way
The DirectStream’s sound is non-fatiguing in an almost tube-like way. It is smooth and relaxing. Surely, you tell yourself, it must be sacrificing detail to deliver this. But no. With recording after recording, the DirectStream presents layers and layers of detail in such a way as to produce a sound which is very easy to listen to, and with a low fatigue factor, even with CD sources. As someone with very little tolerance for the fatiguing nature associated with CD, I find this to be a most appealing characteristic.

http://www.bitperfectsound.blogspot.ca/2014/05/directstream-i.html 

Headphone Guru
I choose to nominate the new flagship DAC from PS Audio
It is truly an exceptional product, and a DAC that allows even the most familiar music to surprise and enthrall.Yes, the folks at PS Audio understand that with digital audio, there can be no final word. Meet the Directstream – a DAC that is ready to keep up with the conversation.

http://headphone.guru/ps-audio-perfectwave-directstream-dsd-dac/




 


If you haven't got one - a proper record cleaning machine. The essential item for every vinyl fanatic. I wet clean every LP once when I buy it and put it into a proper inner sleeve. Transforms your second hand LPs and reduces static and dust build up on new LPs.
You mentioned that you are considering DIY room treatments. Look up ATS Acoustics, They have a great line of products for the DIY’er.
@marktomaras,
I’m sorry to say I don’t have the knowledge to explain why the SR Red or Black fuses (and there are some specific others listed in that thread) create better sounding music.
If you read the thread it might answer your question.
As far as interconnects, speaker cables, digital cables and power cords are concerned, after 30 years of trying various brands, I’m very happy with the sound produced by High Fidelity Cables.
Think about upgrading your digital transport and adding HQplayer to upsample PCM to DSD....

http://http//www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?19221-Streamer-to-kill-the-big-boys-for-under-250


Depending on what you could get for your dac, find a unit that can do chipless DSD the Lampizator.....

i have pair of Dared DV-300 with 3 extra tubes

top of the line you will love them

Wayne 5202518994

Im trying to list them on here

thanks

Thank you all for the thoughtful comments... Keep ’em coming! I am inspired to try 2 things, one at a time of course. First, room correction. I am looking into a diy sound panel. As I am a photographer, I was delighted to discover there is a printable acoustic fabric that can cover an insulation material and simple wood frame. This sounds perfect for 3 panels: one behind each speaker and one big one on the wall behind the listening position. I believe I will be starting there. Do you guys who know about room treatments think this is a reasonable starting point?

the fuses are also interesting. A rep from the cable company told me to research to see if there is a fuse between the output transformers and speaker taps in each channel in my power amp. He advised, if so, to start with those points with two high quality fuses and listen. If the results are good, continue to replace all of the fuses in the system. Does this forum agree?

thanks again,
Mark
Marktomaras;
I'd ask the "fuse question" on the Audiogon Forum I mentioned in earlier posts regarding the SR Red fuse. Those individuals have already been there and done that. They could give you some very good hands on advice.

Check the archives using the key words “acoustic panels” and you will find advise, and many "do's" and "don'ts" in treating a listening room. For instance, I would not place absorption panels directly behind speakers; you want the speaker cabinet resonances to reflect freely back toward the wall.
 
If needed, treatment is used toward the middle of the wall to prevent standing waves from reflecting back toward the listener. Also, if needed, treatment is used in corners behind speakers (bass traps).
You are correct that absorption panels behind the listening position can help reduce extraneous mid to high frequencies.

Most people make the mistake of over-dampening their room on the first try.
Here's some good reading...
http://www.gikacoustics.com/acoustic-advice/

Room treatment first
next on the DAC, upgrade to the PS Audio DSD
then on a record cleaning machine. 
Will be much more than $2K, but you'll have something to look forward to as funds allow!