Most beneficial change .

I am seeking opinions about what to change first , my speakers or my amplification .

I have a Primaluna Prologue 2 integrated feeding Reference 3a Decapo i speakers from a Granite Audio 657 CDP using the tubed side most of the time . I have rolled the input tubes on the integrated to warm things up some which helped nicely . The system is in a small 10'X11' room on the diagonal with some room treatments . The room is carpeted and my chair is overstuffed leather with a matching foot stool .

I get good tone , extension , details , resolution and PRaT but it is kind of boring ! It all sounds pretty good but I don't want to tap my toes ,bob my head or play the air guitar ! I can listen for long periods of time with ease but just don't want to . Easy to fall asleep ! I guess that I would like to increase the dynamics and musicality . I prefer tubes .

Suggestions ?

Thank you for your input .
You are up to the point where the changes are going to be subtle, and just as good a chance to be negative as positive. I would never try to give advice about what to buy when the problem is one of 'feel'. If you like everything, except it does not make yur 'toes tap' then you have "audiophile nervosa' and if you would just relax, spend that money on some beer or wine... In other words, the problem is in your brain, not your equipment. IMO
in that room, very cool btw, I would start with new speakers. How about some Quad's? ESL 57's(rebuilds or the new German made models), or 989's. Then build your system around them Perfect space for them. Add a small sub (Velodyne DD10 or Rel B3) and man, that will be crystal clear, tremendous pace, and cool as hell to boot!!
What have you heard elsewhere that does deliver what you seek? A point of comparison might help.
FWIW, the 3a is a great monitor IMO, and I believe they are capable of delivering the goods.
Have you spent any time listening to a good analog setup? I think digital sources usually sound like you describe.

Also, tweaks like changing cables or using Walker SST on your plugs and connectors can make a huge improvement. If you've got any local audio pals, try some things before you change any major components.

Also, PRAT is the toe-tapping thing; from your description, you certainly are not happy with your lack of PRAT. Cheers,

Agree with Macdadtexas: speakers. I would audition some good used floorstanders, with a dynamic range that approaches 25 hz on the bottom end if possible; and there are lots of great ones to choose from, though I don't know your budget. Good luck.
If dynamics are lacking. Higher sensitivity speakers are called for. Klipsch, Altec, etc. horn loaded, or partially horn loaded. Look for 98db sensitivity and up.
The size of the room is an unfortunate set of dimensions. Do you have a decent set of headphones to listen to the electronics and take the speaker/room interface out of the equation? If you are unmoved listening with the phones, then you should address the cd player, amp, or cables. If it kicks with the phones, you could try some different room treatments, speaker placement, or speakers. Tube traps offer a variety of placements and endless variations of absorbtion/diffusion by rotating the columns.
Your room is too small. The reason that you cannot tap you toes to the music is that the wavelengths of mid bass and low bass are too long and are not supported by your current room dimensions. You could try adding some bass traps. This might eliminate some of the standing waves that are cancelling out some of your midbass. Until you maximize the room acoustics do not spend any more money on speakers or amplification. You cannot change the law of physics but you can eliminate some self induced problems.
I agree with SBank on the quality of your speakers. They are very good. I would be careful with large full-range speakers in that room, it would get overloaded with bass in a very unpleasant manner IMHO without really well applied room treatment - those seem to be good speakers for the dimensions of your room. Is the PrimaLuna running EL34s or KT88s?
Your issues are symptomatic of digital reproduction. The solution is to go back to analogue. Changing speakers, or anything else from the line stage forward, will not solve the problem, because it is at the front end of the chain.
Ok, you have recommendations to change your speakers, your room, and or your front end. No one's mentioned your amp yet, so I say change that :). I'm sure someone will post shortly suggesting that you change your cables. Of course, there's always the possibility that you simply listen to boring music.

In all seriousness, the biggest improvement I have ever had in my system was going from a integrated amp to a separate preamp and amp. IMHO, integrateds in the class of the primaluna can be bested pretty easily. Your speakers have a good rep, so I would look at the other components first.
Maybe you need some new music?

Go on Craigslist and get some Ikea Lack End Tables for $5 and stick it under your CD player...

or Neuance shelves.

But yeah it could be the amp. I have the PL2. I had a McCormack DNA .05 Rev A and the sound was more visceral i suppose. I really liked this amp. But the cost benefit of an integrated and tone of tubes make me happy with my choice in the PL2.

The PL2 sucks for some music for sure. I just listen to Metallica and Pennywise on my ipod and in the car now.

I'm using Coincident Triumph Signatures 90db (I think), first order crossovers. I think your speakers are better and more sensitive. So doubt that is the problem. Could be your speaker placement. Thought I read the deCapo's were finicky about placement... could be wrong.
yo'll need bass and weight for that. a bigger reference 3a will do it....the veena will.
If I had a small room the only speakers I would use would be Quads, they are amazing in a small space where you don't need to generate huge SPL's.
room treatment
I didn't audition PrimaLuna, but I had that feeling when I had CJ preamp. The sound had good extension, very smooth, excellent midrange, but it was boring and I could fall asleep while listening. I take it as different people looking for different qualities in component. Some people prefer laid back smooth sound, and others prefer live and dynamic sound. It's a matter of preference, not one is better than the other. VTL preamp that I'm currently using is at the opposite end of the spectrum, alive, dynamic, with toe tapping quality. You might consider switching your amplification.
B 4 I made any major move, and the sound you have now is good, I'd go back and re-examine the tube selection in the Int.

I've found a mix of tubes whose properties are dissimilar in the preamp section, and/or amp section makes a great diff in the involvment of the sound.

Perhaps in de-detailing or smoothing off the rough spots as you alluded too with previous tube rolling, you went a touch too far... or didn't get the combo of tubes just right, and settled.

ON my tube preamp I have smooth NOS RCA on the input (rectifier) side, and and dynamic NOS Amperex Bugle Boys on the output.... on my tube monos I keep the detailed dynamic thing going with NOS Tungsol input tubes, but go to Winged C EL34 on the output sides.

Try some Amperex whites, Tungsols, Sylvania, or some other snappy dynamic tubes in there somewhere but not in place of those which eased up the presentation and see what happens.

Then... look to amps or speakers.... it's easier and cheaper to do tubes first
First off , I want to thank everyone that has taken the time to offer up their suggestions , please keep them coming .

It seems pretty even between new speakers , new amplification and more room treatments .

I have looked at Coincident Partial Eclipse speakers with the side firing woofers and the Quad 57 rebuilds . I don't want to try , again , to integrate a subwoofer though .

I have also looked at a Cary Cad 300 SE LX20 , Jadis DA's , VAC Renaissance and KR Audio VA-340 integrateds .

I have spoken to other members using my CDP and they don't suffer my problem . I have changed the IC's to au/au 24's with good results . My present room treatments are from Eighth Nerve placed as per their recommendation in the wall corners , wall ceiling junctures and wall ceiling corners . I don't know anything about bass traps though .
Any good primers on the use and placement of bass traps ?

I am no longer able to get out and audition equipment as I used to . I have heard my speakers with four different amplification setups . CJ PV-10 pre with a CJ SS amp containing a tubed buffer , bright and ipodish . Then with a Cayin A88-T , I bought this int. with the speakers . I also heard them with a Cary sli-80 which was very close to the Cayin . All of these auditions were done with the exact same setup , only the amplification was changed . I was unable to bias the Cayin and sold it in favor of the PL as it is self biasing , as are the others that I am looking at . By rolling the input tubes I was able to get the warmth of the Cayin while retaining the greater extension of the PL .

I am still using the stock KT-88 tubes that came with the PL2 . The input tubes were changed to Mullard CV4004 P for the 12AX7's and Radiotechnique vintage 1956's for the 12AU7 driver tubes , these all were per Upscale Audio's recommendation for a warmer sound .

I have dedicated 20A lines with isolated grounds , seperate circuits for analog and digital equipment .

Interesting that Sbank associates PRaT with the toe tapping . I always assumed it related to the tempo of the music reproduction . I have had a CDP that played the music at a different speed than what I was accustomed to hearing and that is what I was refering to as good PRaT . Maybe I am using the term incorrectly .

Blindjim ; can you elaborate on the tube rolling selection for dynamics please ?

Thank you .
Sounds like you are going to have to change everything in your whole life, lol!

I would start with your room (try to find a bigger/better/more rectangular one). My room is bigger than yours and I find that speakers that roll off below 65 Hz are acceptable. Otherwise the sound gets too slow and heavy as the room overloads with bass.

You mentioned that you prefer tubes but I think you might want to try an amp with a lower output impedance (maybe a Pass/First Watt pure class A) since the high output impedance of your existing amp will act like a tone control with your speakers.

Sure... as best I can... you can pm me and we could talk ph to ph live too.

With respect to Upscale Audio's recs, BTW, did they sell these to you or tell you to go find them?

What I posted previously is how I go about things that I've found which have continued to work with various tube items. I am certain it ain't the only way either.

It pretty much keeps to my ideas on system building, but I never really put it into that context till now. Hyper resolving source (signal input), ease off the hard edges with smoother tubes there, then pick up that signal and exploit it downstream. Fatten it, emphasize it, exaggerate it, or maintain it's ease thereafter, DEPENDING on the needs of me... and the speakers/room.

I'm not all about which tubes replace which tubes as substitutes but know those who do. one lives in my area, two others do not.

In thinking about this and considering doign some tube tweaking of my own I've contacted my closest new tube source so I can point you in his direction if needs be.

I've found some tube makes have certain characteristics. RCA are IMO very nice, easy, tubes, like Matsushitas and the Green Amperex. The Amperex whites are far more bold. tungsols are akin to them. other's possess a more dynamic visage too. I don't knowe much at all about 88s. I'd think there might be some major strengths they carry, but some could well be marginally disimilar enough to solve the riddle. Beats me.

I did also run across a review in passing I wanted to investigate on the Gallo speakers. they have a new set forthcoming soon retialing for $6K or so... and read the 3.1 refs review in 6 Moons. John Podis did the account & you can Google for it. If tubes aren't the key, though I think that will surely help, there's them Gallos.

it was clearly stated how well they worked in smaller rooms and bettered most monitors using one ex of some $8K sorts for comparisons sake.
Consider auditioning some different speakers that would enable you to do an
in-room comparison with what you presently own.

I'd suggest trying the Zu Audio Credenza, if doing so fits into your budget.
The Credenza's frequency response is close to your 3a Decapo, but the
Credenza speakers have higher sensitivity, and they have a crossoverless, full
range driver design. Zu Audio does dynamics particularly well, IMO.

If you want to try a model with more bass (because this will surely increase
the toe tapping), then the Essence would be the model to audition.

Zu Audio speakers can be auditioned in home with a return policy since Zu
Audio has switched back to the consumer direct sales model.

I'm not suggesting the Zu speakers are better or worse than what you own,
but they will certainly be different, and it's likely you will either
identify a solution to your problem, or eliminate a possibility...and that will
be progress.
I agree with the zu recommendation. However, I recommend borrowing another good cd player first. And borrow a turntable if you can. I don't imagine the kt88 tube to be the issue.

Also, Prat roughly refers to speed of transient attack and clarity of rythm at any tempo.
I think your loudspeakers are fine. In fact, I have often heard Reference 3A speakers to be very energetic and engaging. You've already played a bit with cabling, and that did seemed to leave you nonplussed.

My opinion on why the system does not come alive is related to the amplifier, though not the amplifier itself. Please give a quad of JJ E34L a try, and your problems might be solved right there. In my experience, comparing KT88 versus EL34 in most cases has left me feeling exactly as you do now.
Trelja ; as an owner of the Granite 657 , do you think that it could be the cause of any my maladies ? Feel free to pm me with your answer if you wish .
I will try the EL 34's .

Thank you .
I'm pretty confident that your issue is the deCapo. It's a terrific speaker (I owned them for several years) that is very easy to drive, tonally neutral and wider bandwidth than cabinet size would suggest. But, but, but...big dynamic swings are the achilles heel. I feel exactly the same way about very expensive Quad ESLs, so you can hardly bitch about the deCapos given their other strengths and price tag.

I'd try to borrow a very dynamic speaker (maybe a horn loaded system) from a local dealer for an in-home audition. That should help determine what you're after.

Good Luck

IMHO, of course, the things that cause a boring system: 1) boring music, 2) slow transients and/or slurred timing, 3) and veiled harmonics.

If 2 and 3 are excellent, you will have natural timbre, dynamics, PRAT, and detail. If they are not well done, no big dynamic swings, tempo, big volume, slam, punch, room treatments, wire, stones or tweaks will replicate music well.
Saki70, I think that so long as you use the solid state output of the Granite 657 once in a while, which would confirm that something with the output tubes are not what you are hearing, it would infer that the CD player is not causing the problem.
Ok , dumb question of the day...can you explain "veiled harmonics" to me please ? Specifically what that would sound like .

Thank you.
Generally, harmonics mean the overtones associated with sounds. For example, if I strike an "a" key on the piano and the string is tuned to vibrate at 440 cycles per second, the sound that predominantly comes out of the piano will be "a" at 440. However, the piano string itself will give off other sound waves in addition to those at 440 cycles per second. For example it may give off additional waves at 880 (one octave above) and 1300 and 1720 and more. These are harmonic overtones and most instruments project them along with the predominant sound of each note.

Additionally, when I strike the "a" key, the piano box itself and the other strings in the piano will vibrate to some extent from the energy released when striking the "a". These extra sounds give all instruments unique character. My explanation is imprecise and any physicist is welcome to chime in here.

When harmonics and these extra sympathetic tones cannot be heard, most instruments will sound boring. When they cannot be heard or they are squashed, I call it "veiled". One can have a system that while it projects the "a" at 440 very cleanly, it sounds "dry" or lifeless, because the harmonics and other extra (ambient) sounds are missing.

In my experience, tube gear does best at reproducing harmonics and ambient sounds and the less feedback used, the better. At this stage in my hobby, I'm unlikely to consider any amp with more than about 1 to 2 db of negative feedback (and zero is preferred) and I have never heard a solid state amp that really pleased me (not saying it does not exist).

So, what do "veiled" harmonics sound like? Well, put the lid down on the piano, throw some heavy blankets on top and you get the idea. You will still hear the "a", but a lot of its overtones and the piano's ambient sounds will be damped or killed. Or, compare the sound of an electric fender rhodes piano to a real piano, hence the reason for the wane in popularity of the fender piano.
Such harmonics and overtones are captured by the microphones. The job of the amp is reproduce the captured signal as accurate as possible. It's NOT the job of the amp to reproduce additional harmonics. However, many amps, especially tube amps, add additional 2nd and 3rd harmonics, which is pleasant to the ears for many. *hint hint*

While I understand that some amps are more natural sounding than others, I don't think that's because such amp is capable of reproducing the harmonics more naturally. Most all amps have flat freq response, and are able to reproduce captured harmonics correctly. I think it's the added harmonics that the amps generate that influence the perception that one amp has more harmonics and therefore more natural sounding than others.
Interesting two different camps talking about , I assume , the same results . One of tubes and no or very low feedback and the other SS with much more feedback .

I don't believe that any circuitry can opperate without a signature , whether it is added harmonics , tone differences etc. So I am thinking that , as stated , it is what one perceives as a desirable addition .

So harmonic overtones are beneficial and add to the realism of the reproduction . But 2nd and 3rd harmonics are artificially introduced by the amplifier and may or may not be beneficial . Might there be other terms used to describe 2nd & 3rd harmonics , such as warmth ?

Are there ways to determine the existance and amount of these different types of harmonics through printed specifications and/or types of circuitry , or is it a matter of user perception ?

Thank you .
Jylee, what is your evidence that tube amps "add" additional 2nd and 3rd harmonics?

I have heard that tube amps emphasize even order harmonics and that solid state amps emphasize odd order harmonics. I've not heard that either embellishes the music by creating them where they are absent from a recording. It may be true, I just have not heard it put that way and I'm curious as to the source.

Where is Ralph when you need him?
One of the few useful and credible measurements published on the web is Stereophile. Here is a random example of a tube amplifier and a solid state amplifier.

tube amp

Take a look at figure 10. It's a graph of response generated by the amp when the input signal is 50Hz pure sine wave. The vertical axis is normalized to the amplitude of fundamental signal at 50Hz. The 2nd harmonics of 100Hz is seen at -40dB of fundamental, and the 3rd harmonics of 150Hz at -60dB of fundamental.

solid state amp

The response plot of the same signal is shown for a random solid state amp in figure 7. There is almost no 2nd harmonics, and 3rd harmonics is at -90dB of the fundamental.

The relative levels of those harmonics may be low enough, but they are not present in the input signal of pure sine wave, and they are the by product. I've picked random samples, but in general tube amps tend to generate more harmonics, and solid state amps tend to generate less. There are exceptions of course.
Sorry, the link for the solid state amp measurement is here.

solid state amp
In the two test samples, it appears the tube amp adds predominantly second or even order harmonic and the solid state amp adds odd order harmonic (at a comparatively lower level (amplitude?)). It may be worth noting that the authors complained of significant hum in the tube amps tested, which could affect the output, but I'm ready to accept that both tube and solid state amps add harmonics to the source material.

The tests were performed on a 50khz pure sine wave. I am interested in seeing the results of similar test feeding the complex waves of a real instrument, say the strike of an "a" on the piano. Is that test data available comparing a tube amp to a solid state amp?
Wanted to give an update here.

I took the advise of tube suggestions . I had forgotten that this was one of reasons for the Primaluna choice !

I have tried some EL34's . Very nice , I see what you meant Trelja . They do make the mids more pronounced and interesting . I can see the fascination with these tubes !
These will do me for now .

Thanks to all .

Which 34's did you try? CED Winged C? JJ?
Hi Jim ;
I tried EH's on the recommendation from Upscale Audio for the most dynamic EL-34 tube .
Once I get used to them I will then try some JJ's . I have been told that they may be better . Any thoughts ?

Thank you .
Your speakers are finicky as respects placement. Most who have them in a smaller room have them placed along the long wall. You may try moving things around a bit before spending more money (and time) on new speakers. How far do you sit from your speakers...and how far from the back wall (or corner, I guess, as you have them on the diagonal) do you sit? What type of music are you listening too? Do you have some very well recorded, non-compressed CD's to use as a reference? What are the power cords on the amp & CD player? Have you done a polarity check to make sure all is proper?
I found I liked what I got from the CED Winged C EL34's which came with my amp. So I just bought another set for each amp. The 3 mini tubes in fromt allowed me a wider variety of sonic changes by rolling them... so I got some of those two and found running Tungsol 5687 all around with the Winged C suited me best.

I've asked - posted threads here on EL34s, in the past, so you might search the archives for the various EL34 threads.

Another avenue is to Google EL34s, and read the guitar ampheads thoughts on the various 34s out there... NIB & NOS.

Some of the larger tube vendors post notes on the sound of their tubes too... like "The Tube Store" and others.

If I remember any or run acorss any I'll email you the link to them.

They ain't way 'spensive so trying out some shouldn't be to troubling. I had to get two sets of four. I'd think you would need less. The 'funny' cool thing is I've paid more for one little bitty tube than I did for all 8 of those Winged C's. lol

G' luck.
Cerrot ;
I sit 6ft. from the speaker face and the speakers are 6ft. apart . The distance from the wall behind them is angled but @2ft. One would have the rear port firing at the angled wall and the other fires into a closet containing my equipment . The speakers are firing straight ahead as per manufacturers instructions . I sit @ 2ft. out from the wall behind me .
I have a Wolffe Source cord on the CDP and stock chord on the amp as I was told it doesn't respond much to change .
I listen to classic rock , contemporary blues , singers and standards and some contemporary jazz . Polarity is correct . I have some nicely done CD's that are sounding even better with the EL-34's now .

If I could increase the dynamics and extension of these EH's , that would be another step in the right direction !
But they sure are sounding purty !

Thanks for the info , I will check it out .

You do have the grills removed, correct?
No , but I'll give it a shot .
That will be it! Report back.

10-11-09: Cerrot

You do have the grills removed, correct?
Cerrot (System | Threads | Answers)

10-12-09: Saki70
No , but I'll give it a shot .
Saki70 (Answers)

10-12-09: Cerrot
That will be it! Report back.
Cerrot (System | Threads | Answers)

All this with the grills on. I'm interested to hear this one...
Also, don't know how loud you listen or how sensitive your speakers are, but I have to juice my speaks pretty good to get some decent dimensionality and 'excitement'. Otherwise, things sound rather flat.
Hi Jim
Did you try the 7044 as well before you went with the 5687

I really like how the GE 7044 sound in that positon

BTW Which vendor did you buy your Tungsol 5687 from ?
I have tried to build a system that will sound good at lower volumes . Most of my listening is done at speaking volume or a little higher . Remeber that I am sitting 6ft. from the speaker face . My speakers are 91db. at 8 ohms and 6 ohms nominal . How loud I listen depends on the type of music . I prefer classic rock to be louder than say jazz and singers and standards .

I have found , that if it needs to be turned up to sound good , I am not getting much use out of that all important first watt . My tinnitus will kick in louder and , for some music , the seductivness will not be as evident . For me , this is where some of the synergy aspect comes into play when matching an amp to speakers .

As an aside , I have tried removing the grills when running the KT-88's and did not notice any difference . May be different with the EL-34's .

Thank you .
Etbaby, I hear you on the room dimensions/standing wave deal, but man my car audio experience is every bit as toe tapping, head banging, and air guitar wailing as any high end rig i've sat in front of...(way less vol than 10x11) it's not one thing in audio, never is. Some of what Elizabeth said and everyone else.
Maybe you should just pad your ceilings, walls, and put car seats in approximately the center of your room. Suck all those wavelengths right up (until you open your windows) and have fun.
I hear you on padding the walls !!!

Happy Tunes .