Lost - Your combined experience required

Over the past while, off and on, i've been thinking about upgrading my gear, wanting more open, airy and extended sound. I want to lose the slight veil currently existing in my setup that just takes away from the believability of the presentation. I'd like more dimension as well.

I've made threads about possible amp upgrades, speakers, source...all separate threads (over a period of time). But i've never made a thread asking your opinions on what you feel the weak link actually IS, in my case.

CD - Rotel RCD 971/ Sony PS1 model 1001 (on its way)
Sugden a48b w/ upgrades including point to point wiring
Rega Ara speakers
Target sand filled metal stands
cheapo monster cable (i also have some ecosse cable, but that makes the system sound very flat, albeit somewhat more extended in the higher frequencies).

Room is small, one bedroom condo living room, open to kitchen. Living room area is approx 14 x 10 or so (maybe a bit longer)

The system is on the better-sounding long wall of the room (not the dividing wall). I have fussed around w/ speaker placement to no end, finding strengths and compromises in a variety of positions, but with no fully satisfying results.

I came to a quick conclusion that my speakers are the weak link here, but now i'm not so sure. After reading about the Ara's and how others describe them, it sounds like I may be wrong.

On a hunch, i started reading up more on that particular sugden model and I've come to realize that it's generally not considered the most transparent in the world. It IS a good amp, mind you - quality performance. But perhaps just a little too antiquated for the sound i'm looking for.

I'm not too concerned about the source at the moment, since I'll soon have two players to swap in and out.

But I'm really lost in terms of whether i should swap speakers or amp (or both!). I'm on a budget and I don't really want to fuss around and risk poor matching etc etc...

With all your combined experience, I'm bound to glean some sort of insight from some of you. Hopefully. Thoughts? Please? ha
My first thought is to buy some quality speaker wire (and interconnects), get that part of it right first, see how it sounds, if it does not float your boat find out what speakers would work with the amp, or if you like the speakers find the amp that matches them.

My general idea about CD players is that most of them are pretty good these days. I would not worry about them just yet.

bottom line is that wire is fairly cheap and easy to ship so try some used cables here on Agon and see where you stand then.

good luck and have fun...
Thanks for your post, Phil, but i do not believe that the cables can fix the issues i'm having. I think i'm looking for a different overall sound, not just the fine tweaks of cable changes (although don't get me wrong - i know they can make dramatic differences, but I think i should be more 'in the ballpark' with my electronics/ speakers).
I just think the wire needs to be decent to begin with, I dunno, maybe the Monster cable is good and I do not know the amp or speakers I just know that matching the two is one of the most important things in a stereo that has to be done right.

good luck
"...wanting more open, airy and extended sound. I want to lose the slight veil currently existing in my setup that just takes away from the believability of the presentation. I'd like more dimension as well."

Loose, a couple of questions. Are you able to borrow equipment from a local dealer or from friends? If you have a local dealer, audition some systems that get you closer to what your ideal sonic presentaion might be and then borrow the integrated amp or separates in that system and take them home and drive your speakers with them. If the top end becomes more extended and the soundstage opens up, then you know the problem is with the Sugden. If it does not, then you know the problem is with your speakers and then you can perhaps audition some speakers that are a better fit with your Sugdens.

What are the specs on your speakers (sensitivity and impedance) and on the Sugden (power)? I couldn't find anything on either of them. It could be that the Rega ARAs and the Sugden are just not good matches. Finally, depending on what your budget is, you can potentially scratch both items and start from scratch. A good place to start is The Absolute Sound as every year they have an issue where they put together complete systems (speaker, amplification, source and cabling) in the under $5K range and some are in the $1k-$2K range for the complete systems, so for just the speaker and amp that should come in considerably less. If you do not have these older issues from earlier this year or prior years, email me with your info and i can fax you or mail you copies of their suggested systems. It's a good place to start as any, as these systems at the very least are properly matched. Good luck.
'...maybe the Monster cable is good...'

No, i don't feel it's good cable, but it matches better than the ecosse cable that i also have. And I do agree - certain combos like certain cables a lot more than others.

Cmalak - I don't have any friends who are audiophiles and I cannot afford to buy new (not w/ my tastes, anyway). I don't want to waste any dealer's time either.

Therein lies my problem; I have no real way to compare products. I have to go on educated guesses.

by the way, the speakers are easy to drive and will play at a good volume before starting to break up/ compress, and beyond that, the amp is very conservatively rated at 50 or 60 wpc, but it's very robust sounding.

Maybe I was spoiled with my Unico from back in the day.

I'm guessing out of the gate that 50-60 watts from an integrated may be underpowered in terms of current delivery for those speakers which I'm reading like power/juice as surprisingly do many a smaller quality monitor speaker that appear easy to drive optimally but are not.

More power and current delivered consistently at all frequencies as better built amps can do can have the same effect in waking up a speaker that can handle it as a stiff breeze on a windsock at ground level compared to a similar flow at 30000 feet.
Two ideas:

1) go to The Cable Company http://www.thecableco.com/ and tell them what system you are using and whatever you think is a reasonable budget for interconnects and speaker wires. Ask to borrow at least two sets of each and try them for an extended period of time in your system, allowing for break-in/warm-up as needed till the sound doesn't change with subsequent listening. Does this make a noticeable difference?

2) Agree with Mapman, more power is a good thing with many smaller speakers (in order to grab a hold of those little woofers and show em who's the boss. Your amp is older and there are some better ones available used in the $300-750 range. Check on Agon and elsewhere for options. Spending less than this amount doesn't get you much if anything more than you have with the Sugden. Some amps to look at used in this price range include Rega Brio or Mira, NAD C-372 or 352, Cambridge Audio Azur 740A, 640A v2, Exposure 2010S (good luck!), Onkyo A-9555, Music Hall A25.2, Creek 5350SE.

If you buy used, you could resell at very little risk to you. If you find one you like better than your current amp - sell your Sugden to recover some costs.
Have you considered Magnepan MMG?
This is a tough one. Any component can be a weak link in your setup. While one thinks it's the amp and the other reckons the speaker, the third person may say it's the source.

I suppose the more important question is which component upgrade will yield the biggest improvement in sound quality.

If I were you I would look at the loudspeakers first. Veil in music can be caused by many reasons with quality of loudspeakers being an important one. The Harbeth P3ESR is an excellent choice if it's within your budget. Others may add more options into the list.
If you haven't already, you could try some used Klipsch Heresy II on factory risers or short stands (use them without the grills)...if you don't like that sound you should be able to sell them quickly again and move on. They are very easy to drive and sound good at both low levels and high levels. Often small speakers can compress dynamics and when that happens detail retrieval goes out the window. Speakers like this will give you excellent flexibility for your next amp decision...almost any amp will drive them easily. They are available used on CAM every so often.
Mapman and knownothing: the previous owner of the sugden had it running a pair of totem model 1s without issue. The current reserve on tap is substantial on this amp, so I do not believe this to be the issue. When I mention 'breaking up at higher volumes', it's not distortion as a result of running out of juice, without a doubt. It's a speaker limitation. Having said that, the amp simply may not be my 'flavour' and yes, i agree, its age is definitely a factor, since current amps tend to be more revealing in general.

By the way, i failed to mention in my first post that my room is very dead sounding (unfortunately), which is definitely playing a major factor here.

Thanks for the cable co. link (never knew about that site).

Ddd1 - i've never actually consider Klipsch... Maybe I should at least do a little research...

All responses are very much appreciated, people. It just bugs me that I can't seem to approach the type of sound I USED to have w/ my former system. (and i used to nit pick about that one too, despite the fact that it was a lot better than this setup!)
You didn't say what is on the floor. If it's wall to wall more power would certainly help. I think rooms that open to another room, have large open entres, or are continuous with another room, as you describe can be difficult. Experiment with nearfield listening. If this helps, you may need to add more power as the speakers are moved farther away. You can probably improve speaker wire with a trip to Radio Shack (50' for $25), or try Anti Cables, or Mapleshade. MMG may be a solution, but most definitely will need more power.
I wouldn't dismiss a speaker cable change so quickly. If you want more airy, open and extended I would definitely suggest Mapleshade's offerings. They will also increase dynamics. You will notice the diference immediately.

The other thing I recommend from my experience is to try the speakers WELL out into the room for best imaging and palpability. Mine are out nearly 5 feet from the back wall. Toe them slightly out for a more open sound.

Also that many times when I make a cable change, the preferred position and toe-in also changes.
My initial thought was to get some better cables.

Knownothing mentionned The Cable Co., who currently has a promotion with CRL (Cable Research Labs) for 2 sets of their "Bronze" IC's and a set of speaker cables for (I beleive) $895.00, and this is very flexible with cable lengths, RCA/XLR, Single/Bi-Wire, etc.

Based on my experience with CRL/FIM, this is quite the bang-for-the-buck.

I have no affiliation with The Cable Co. or CRL...just sharing this as a great opportunity (in my opinion,) which may be a great match for your desire to upgrade.
I would start with cabling.Look at the Kimber PBJ or even the Mapleshade.You might consuder a cable or multiples,with a return policy.Charge at the begining of the "charge period",take a listen and return before the CC closes.You might also look at the Home Depot 14 gauge extension cord.It makes a very nice "starting" cable,especially at $15/100'.Give them a turn +/- 180 degrees before settling down to listen.
Absolutely upgrade your front end first. What do you think the quality of sound is coming out of your two CDPs on a scale of 1 to 10? Cables won't get you to where you want to go and if you change any one component, the cables you changed to may not work with that change. Once you hear what a better front end can do in your system, then you can judge if that has made a significant improvement. Borrow a CDP or DAC from a local dealer to hear in your system first.
I love the Klipsch sound, and the Heresey II is a great speaker, but if you are looking to open it up and "air it out" that would not be my choice.

For monitors, and on a budget, I would look at the Paradigm 40 series and some stands, or move up to the 60's for some floor standers. Great value speaker.

I love Maggies, but I don't think your room has the space to let the MMG breathe, and the amps you need for Maggies would eat up your budget quickly.

The I would get the best SS integrated that you can afford:
Bryston, Pass, Cary, McIntosh... There are a bunch, get one with some power.

For cables, I am not a big believer in the value of cables beyond maybe the first level upgrade, but some reasonably priced Kimber (8vs, or 8tc unterminated for speakers), Cardas, or Audioquest could really help.

Good Luck.
Buy a a pair of Paul Spietz' Anti-Cables here used, should be cheap by comparison to what some of the previous folks have suggested....if you don't like them, you can sell for the same price and you're out NOTHING...at least that way you've tried something besides the crappy Monster cables, sorry, but they simply are....the Home Depot extension cord is better than they are. That's my two cents, then I'd try and demo a cdp for a weekend, that would be the next step. Good luck
If the cables conduct electricity, then they are not a major factor. If the amp is not clipping, i.e., not underpowered, then it is not a major factor. Your digital source is fine. So the speakers and the room, as almost always the case, are where to look for improvements.

My opinion is that the lack of bass from your speakers are what's missing. Having the additional bass weight will give you a more realistic presentation. I would add a subwoofer -- small and sealed for your room. The SVS SB12-Plus, which I use in my office system, gets my recommendation.

Unfortunately, your integrated amp will probably not allow you to take full advantage of a powered subwoofer by bi-amping with it (i.e., high passing the main speakers). So then the next step would be to either obtain separates or an integrated amp with both preamp out and main amp in jacks.

BTW, I auditioned the Sugden A21 several years ago in my office system. It was fine -- no different sonically from the NAD C320BEE or Decware Zen that I had on hand -- but generated way too much heat.
Two things jump out at me looking at your equipment list. The Rotel and Monster.

I think you really need to upgrade your cabling to give your equipment the chance to shine. But that being said, all the Rotel CD players I've heard sounded veiled and any cabling changes might not be as noticeable with the Rotel at the front of the chain.

Still, for your system I would address cabling first. Dumping the Monster Cable would be akin to having a good colon cleanse. And I think the Cable Co. suggestion is a great place to start.
Gunbei -

The Rotel is not particularly veiled, I'm certain of that. I used it directly with a Unico and Neat Mystiques in another room and it was just fine (better with the link dac III, but on its own, i had no complaints). I will also have a PS1 on hand (the one reviewers rave about), so I'm not ready to point the finger at the source at the moment. Again, this is primarily because the Rotel worked with the Unico / Neat combo.

Having said that, I may try to coax my friendly, neighbourhood, audio store to lend me a decent unit of some sort. I'm thinking a naim cd5i2, a cyrus 6se or 8se or a cambridge 740 or 840. At least I'd get a good comparison there. (I wonder if a 640c would work for me? does it approach the 740 or 840, even?)

The monster cables, although better-sounding than the ecosse in this particular case, i agree, will need to be removed from the equation.

With respect to those who mention cable changes- once again, i agree that cables make a difference, but I'm looking for an altogether change - a drastic sort of change in sound.
Acknowledging that cables make a difference, I'm looking to alter the current 'house sound' i'm getting from my existing combination of components.

There is much to be said for system synergy, for sure, and a lot of people on here tout certain brands work very well together: naim amp and cd, cyrus products, rega products..

I wonder, then, if a rega brio or mira would open the aras up?

Conversely, if the aras are inherently warm-sounding (which i don't really know, since i've only paired them with my sugden and my nad 3020a, both of which are warm, maybe the overall 'colour' is just too dark. Therefore, a livelier, brighter speaker with a slightly wider frequency range would get me at least more in the realm of where I want to be sonically-speaking. ...Maybe? ...possibly? ...Hopefully?

Do i have a bald spot on my head yet?
get yourself a sub to borrow and see if that fills out your sound, try using the speaker connections and free your speakers up a little from carrying the low end. even ina small room, maybe a 10 inch driver, would give you a sound you do not have. .
I have installed an energy esw v8 into the system (which i don't normally use for two channel audio). I have it dialed in perfectly to round out the bottom.

No doubt, it adds some dimension to the music; it, however, doesn't solve my problem of 'lack of air'.

Wow Bob_reynolds. You sound so definite, but the poster should not ignore the other advice here. Cable changes in my system (5 1/4" woofers!) cured me of wanting a sub.

With some cable combinations, I didn't want to listen to music. With other combinations it sounded wonderful.

You are certainly correct about the room and speaker position effect, but it would not be correct to dismiss all good amps as sounding the same as you have indicated.

Interestingly and not surprisingly, the advice so far is all over the map. I am usually a source-first guy, but thinking in this case your older amp may be the greatest factor. New budget CD players from Cambridge, Music Hall and NAD are getting much better, and the suggestions to demo other gear and cables if you can is helpful. While thinking about wires don't ignore the possibility of trying aftermarket power cables if your gear have detachable power cords. Again, you don't have to spend bundle to hear real benefits from a thicker gauge and well designed and constructed cable, shielded for CDP and unshielded for an amp.

While you are trying to sort these larger things out, here is a cheap trick you can try that wont cost an arm and a leg, and I have found opens up the sound of my system and brings out the highs and details - especially when applied to my CD player.

Buy a length of hardwood - say a 2" X 2" oak replacement leg for a coffee table, $8 or less. Cut it into a series of perfectly flat 2x2 chunks in groups of three or four of the same height that can be used to raise your CDP or amp about 1/8" above their stock feet. Experiment on suspending your amp and CDP on a set of these on your rack. I would start with three, one under the transformer and two others placed to complete a stable triangular base.

The dense wood will serve to transfer vibration from your gear to the rack more efficiently than stock feet that usually have rubber pads that isolate and trap internal vibration in your gear. If your rack is made of a material that can absorb and dissipate the vibration from your gear while also effectively isolating it from vibration in the room, you will likely experience the greatest benefits from this trick. This accomplishes some of the same benefits as brass cones and other isolation devices at a fraction of the cost.

If your rack system is suspect in either respect you can place a heavy block of wood, like a maple chopping block, directly under your gear and the small wooden blocks to carry out some of the same functions described above for your rack.

Other relatively cheap tricks include using a contact cleaner and silver treatment on the connectors for your speaker and interconnect cables.

Moving up the tweak list a bit, many people including me find that replacing stock fuses in electronic gear with silver fuses has a positive impact on sound quality.

The above tricks can be accomplished for relatively small investments in time and money, and while usually not offering the same level of benefits as wire and gear changes, will nevertheless push your system in direction of the "more open, airy and extended sound" you seek.
Ssglx, sorry for being so blunt in my post. I was running late and I should have postponed to another time. I did use the adjective "major" in an attempt to quantify the impact of cabling and amps based on my experience.

I don't know if "lack of air" would be a symptom of too much distortion from the speakers, but based on the volume levels and the music the OP's speaker system is likely producing a good bit. Running small speakers full range with no support from a real subwoofer is a recipe for distortion. There's no way around it except very low SPL.

FYI, I have a Cambridge 640C v2 CDP and it works very well. It is "alive" and detailed sounding with solid bass, good instrument placement, but not the widest sound stage ever. I am running it with an older modified AMC amp and custom built large bookshelf speakers. It should pair well with your amp and speakers. I am using a Shunyata Diamondback power cord with it and currently using Radio Shack Fusion interconnects because believe it or not they sound more coherent to me in this application than the AQ Sidewinder and Diamondback, Monster Cable or XLO wires I also have on hand.

If interested, you should be able to pick up one of these for about $300 used - although look for the "version 2" as I have owned both and the second generation is noticeably better. I listened to my version 2 player with Sim Audio Moon i7 integrated, Dynaudio Contour S1.4, and about $3000 worth of Shunyata wires when I was testing power cords, and I was surprised how good it sounded in that company - significant upside to this little player.

The Cambridge 740C is a minor step up in my experience, but the 840C with a good power cord and played through balanced interconnects is a smoother and more analog sounding rig.

Enough different opinions for ya?

aren't you glad you asked?

With all the suggestions he has got so far I reckon it's a complete revamp of the system.

Yeah, it sounds like the Rotel may not be the culprit here.

You did mention that this particular room sounds a bit dead, so that may be one reason this system lacks life.

That said, my listening room is packed with stuff and is by no means a hot or lively sounding room, but I managed to get a lively sounding system with a good sense of scale without it being bright.

A lot of this had to do with cabling, especially the one I ran from transport to DAC. Unlike most people here I view cabling as an equal component. Just as skin is considered an organ.
I used to be a "wire is wire" guy until I heard Gregg Straley's Reality speaker cables. They openend up the sound and brought out clarity and dimensionality unheard until then. These are special cables that sound to me like what you may need. They are not expensive and can be returned for full refund, less shipping which is not much, if you don't like them. I would seriously try these speaker cables. Nearly zero risk.

Instead of buying cables, amp and new speakers - try listening to a pair of audioengine 5's - you may be surprised - for a small space they are well suited.
Loose, have you ever heard your speakers sounds unveiled and more to your liking? I mean with other gear or in another system? Thta is, have you been able to determine that the speakers can perform to your liking? Maybe bringing them to a friends house - if that is possible? I start there, because it seems to me that satisfying systems have to start by finding a speaker that satisfies you and then getting the right amp to drive it within the context of the room they will play in and the power/impedance match between the amp and speaker. Every compponent is important, so I'm not saying the source and cabling is "secondary" in that sense, but I think the starting place has to be the speaker of your choice, then the amp to drive it, and OFCOURSE, the room/speaker interface. If you have heard your speakers sound wonderful to you then you know you have a good starting point to focus on upgrading the other components. The Unico had tubes didn't it?
Hi guys!

PHil, you're right - my head's SPINNING now! ...and I thought i was confused before!

Knownothing - thank you for your suggestions regarding component isolation. I have tried a wide variety of tweaks in this regard. I currently have my amp and cd player sitting on squash balls cut in half (works well, shock and surprise!). I also have weight on top of the cd player to minimize vibration as much as possible. These tweaks definitely sharpen up the sound to some degree. I'll try a few more for fun.

Thanks for the info on the Cambridge. I like what i've read about the 840c, but it's out of my price league for sure at this time. I'll have a look at the 640c and do some reading when i get home from work later.

Rockadanny - trust me - i don't believe that 'wire is wire' and I'll have a look at Gregg's cables too.

Shadorne - never heard of Audio Engine 5's, but again, i'll read up on them tonight.

Pubul57 - You have a really great point here; No, i have never heard these speakers in a different context, save for when i purchased them used. The gentleman from whom i bought them demoed them briefly with a mira, but used a dvd music video as an audio sourse. Therefore, the sound was quite a bit better than standard CD.

I wish i had audiophile friends... I don't really know anyone with good gear. All of my friends are 'boom- tizz' kind of listeners, only impressed with initial flash and not even taking the time to appreciate finer sound.

I've never understood this, because I've been into audio since i was a kid and realized very early on that the difference between an 'ok' sounding system and a great sounding one can bring soooo much enjoyment, peace and serve as an escape...but only when the music is natural and effortless. Music heals my soul, so i want it to be as good as it can get within my meagre budget.

I really, truly wish i would have kept my Unico (and yes, it had tubes in the preamp stage). It really was (is) a great piece. To me, at a local audio store, it handily bettered a CYRUS 8 int amp and a Nait 5i for sheer musicality and realism. I really appreciated it when I took home several other amps at the time for comparison (Kandy III, Caspian, Classe CAP151 and a couple of others).

The Unico outclassed them all with its oh so smooth layering, dynamics, extension, sweetness, width, depth and overall tasty goodness. Everything else seemed far less refined, by comparison.

(sorry...didn't mean to re-live old glory days when I had cash for good gear).