Most eye-opening upgrade and what you learned

Would love to know about moments of light on the high-end audio learning curve.

My husband and I number among the academic poor ...
with preferences which substantially exceed our budget.
Nonetheless, we have managed an aha!! experience or
two of our own.

The mating of conrad johnson tube preamp with krell solid
state amp opened our eyes about the role of electronics
in creating presentation.

Listening to the revel salons set our standards for hearing music rather than sound from an audio playback system.

Know that many of you have deeper insight, am hoping you
will share.

Newcomer to audiogon
The REL line of subs, a staggering revelation about the potential and the role of subwoofers in high-end audio. If you had asked me a decade ago whether I thought subs "belong" in a high-end system, I would have laughed. Not anymore. They have literally taken me all the way from "no way, not ever" to "indispensable in recreating the original musical event". You owe it to yourself to audition a properly set-up system using these subs (preferably at the Stadium level or higher, and with a high-quality two-way speaker). And make sure the person who tuned it knew what they were doing, or else you're wasting your time. When set up properly, they will simply vanish, and it will sound like the partnering speakers extend down into the center of the earth, and the listening room walls evaporate into thin air.
Mine was when I installed a Tara Labs power cord on my system. This was a smaller aha!!!, but shocking nonetheless.
Shouldn't it say: EAR opener? :-)
Revel was the same for me! Ended up in purchasing the ULTIMA SYSTEM, w.i. with the Sub15 - better than the Salon.
Involving tubes was another big step for mankind (McIntosh
MC 2000)
Among the "cheaper" steps were the PS Audio Power Plant ( and Kimber Select Interconnects and speaker cables.
The latter again create MUSIC instead of sound - as you described it perfectly.
Good luck!
THE SHUNYATA HYDRA. Big bucks but worth every pennie.
The greatest audio revelation I have experienced was the moment I replaced my generic speaker cables a few years ago with a fine pair of (used) Tara Labs. I was, simply stated, stunned by the sonic difference. I heard highs and lows in my B&W CDM7s that I'd never thought them capable of. Before this, I had always thought speaker cable was, well... just a piece of copper. That first moment totally converted me to a believer.
For me it was q-tips, what a difference!
The biggest eye (or ears) opening upgrade I made was ading Bybee Quantum force filter to my interconnect, I never tought my system could do restitution like that!
A minor epiphany occured when I upgraded from Kimber 4tc speaker cable to Analysis Plus Oval 9. Then, I tried bi- wiring the Magneplanar 1.6's using both the Kimber & Oval 9's. Even better. Swapping the 9s & 4tc between woofer & quasiribbons changed things, each is different & equally interesting. Now the epiphany was this: synergy is everything. With every previous upgrade, you wonder just how much better can things sound. If the component doesn't gel synergistically, it's just different, not better. But when it clicks, eureka! However, it's both depressing & exhilarating. After the sonically enabled release of endorphins, the realization kicks in that this could be a never ending quest for the holy grail of audio euphoria. Like you, my wife & I are in the field of education & must go for "high value" products.
judith: welcome to the 'gon! having been at this hobby for roughly 35 years, i've had quite a number of eye (or ear)-opening experiences. i'll share a couple:

first, listening to my lp's on a decent turntable after they sat neglected for a couple of years during my first "digital epoch." the vpi hw-19 with a grado arm and grado reference cartridge simply blew away every cdp then available. so, for several years after acquiring this analog rig and upgrading to a tnt/ sme V/ lyra clavis, i had no cd player in my ever-evolving system. (FWIW, my current analog frontend is much more exotic.)

second, hearing a great one-box cdp in my setup. the first of this ilk was an accuphase dp-65, replaced after 2 months with a dp-75. thus began my second digital epoch.

for about a month and a half now, i've finally able to get world class digital AND analog performance with my purchase of a boulder 1012 pre/dac. this beautiful box, coupled with compatible lp and cd transports, provides the best from both my music collections.

i hope, tho, that i continue to be amazed by newer and better stuff. i especially look forward to the production of more great recordings of music, whatever their format might be.

Yes tireguy, but were they active or passive q-tips?
Kelly-I don't know who your kidding everyone knows you are using an old Teac turntable with a rubberband for a belt ;) But hey if you think its exotic, before you laugh that is what I am using for an anlog front end-hence digital being my sole source.

Judit-I first used active(there was a large build up) when things could be controled I went to passive. But all of that aside I prefer using the ones with the blue "handle" and the extra bushy swab end, YMMV.

1st: Going from "high grade" monster cable speaker cables and interconnects to Nordost Blue Heaven.

2d: Adding an API Powerwedge 114 (who knew there were cymbals on that track?)

3d: Going from the Snell B Minor to the Snell A Reference Towers.

4th: Going from a low-end Denon 'table with a mid-fi Ortofon cartridge to a high-end Denon 'table with a Grado Reference Sonata cartridge.

5th: Going from an Adcom GFP 565 preamp to the Plinius CD-LAD preamp.

6th: Convincing my wife that busting my IRA and investing the money in Mo-Fi was a good idea :-)

Welcome to the high end, Judit; it's a journey and not a destination.

Hi Judit and welcome to A'gon. Good thread. I've made maybe five pretty important audio discoveries, but maybe THE most important has been AUDIOGON. That said:
1. I discovered tubed pre-amps, and the fact that a high quality front-end really is essential to producing good excellent music, ie it's more important than expensive speakers.
2. I installed a complete dedicated AC system that of necessity required high quality power cords on components. This lowered noise floor dramatically. With dedicated AC, I also found I had to get rid of power conditioners.
3. The Levinson 360S DAC makes well recorded digital music sonically excellent.
4. I discovered Synergistic Research's Active Shield interconnects. In my case their use produced a profound improvement in especially soundstaging in my system, but also greater clarity. Syn. Res. is just now releasing active shielded speaker cables and power cords-- haven't tried them yet.
5. And finally, I recently acquired Vandersteen 5 speakers (replaced Vand. 3Asigs), and with their built in 400 wpc amps and subwoofers (to 22 HZ), discovered what a revealing speaker could do, and that HQ subs really are important. These speakers have incredible mid-range clarity and "center of the earth" bass. But make no mistake, revealing speakers also reveal flaws in recordings. Cheers. Craig
I agree with Kelly in that your "old" and "noisy" vinyl might astound you if given half a chance. That is, if you take the time to set up what most would refer to as even a "decent" phono system and clean the records properly. I had this revelation while listening to an FM broadcast on WFMT late one night. Even with the sonic degradation that takes place via transmitting the signal and FM's limited bandwidth, the stations "old" records sounded better than the identical CD's that i had been playing here in my house !!! Needless to say, i went out and invested in a new vinyl rig and have been enjoying it ( again ) ever since. In fact, i just bought a new $3000 tonearm yesterday !!!

Other than that, my biggest "shocks" came along by swapping components in the same system. Some products REALLY are head and shoulders above others, regardless of the specs and reviews. Some SS components truly are capable of GREAT amounts of "air", "space" and "sweetness" and producing "music" whereas others simply sound like "audio gear" reproducing "notes" and "sounds". Once you hear something like this, you will know EXACTLY what i mean. Some of you probably still remember the first system that you heard that "oozed" musicality and detail, all at the same time.

Another "doozy" was going from large multi-drivered box speakers to a single omnidirectional driver. Talk about "deep" and "spacious" without having the sound of a "box" to focus on. It forever changed my perspective on what "good" sound consisted of.

Call it "psychological" or whatever you want, "burning" interconnects on my Mobie helped to reveal a level of transparency, warmth and detail that i had not previously heard out of any of my systems. The fact that i could take $25 worth of high grade parts, assemble them and put them on my Mobie and have them end up smoking cables that had cost me hundreds of dollars was also an eye opener. Don't discredit DIY designs until you've heard some for yourself.

Last but not least, going from passive crossovers to active crossovers when multi-amping. Using identical speakers and electronics, the differences in speed, clarity, focus, detail, etc... were truly astounding once the system went "active". I found all of this out even though the original electronic crossover in question was a "piece of junk" and a "fossil". In plain English, it was a very old professional sound reinforcement unit that set me back $50 on the used market. Even though it was old and ugly, it still sounded MILES better than the fancy "audiophile grade" caps and coils that we had been using previously. Sean
Hi Judith. It's good to see another academic who enjoys quality sound with their music. One of the most significant moments in my relatively short time in audio was listening to record playback sonically tower over SACD in a short A/B session. 'B' was the SACD portion, and I could not wait to get back to 'A'. The latest drama was a interconnect upgrade a few months ago. After selling my old cables my net cost for my new, used interconnects will be like $100. I did not expect such a dramatic, transforming improvement, and I was almost embarrassed that it was my cables that were pinning my sound down all that time. Good luck.
Most ear opening for me was *finally* trying an upgrade AC cord - which for years & years I swore could not possibly change the sound of a system, WRONG! From there it was all downhill & I've become a diehard subjectivist tweaker. Now I have more $ in cables & line conditioning than some folks spend on an automobile.
that such an inexpensive tweak could significantly improve bass response and overall clarity. Understand, I'm talking about Hubbell hospital grade outlets (treated with Caig Pro Gold), not ones that are especially high-end.
Changing listening position- from far field to near field. Everything fell in place and parallax removed. All I had to do was try- at length. Try even closer than the famous sit-at-apex-of-equilateral-triangle rule, it may work for you.
Definitely the most eye opening experience I've had in this hobby was upgrading to my first quality analog rig (Goldmund Studio, Graham tonearm, Koetsu cartridge) from an old Audio Technica. It was as if I had found the music, not just the notes.
Going from ss to valves
Welcome to the 'Gon Judit. I had the same experience as Nilthepill. I picked up a pair of Mirage MRM-1 Reference Monitors and tried them all over my listening room. Then I finally read the owner's manual after about a month of experimenting. The factory suggested "rule of thirds" put them in a near field listening position. All the room anomalies dissappeared. Soundstage went deep and wide. I now describe my listening experience as "headphone-like." Honestly, my system has never sounded better than in near field. Good luck. Erik
Kelly what a small world...
I'm about to embark upon the same ear-opening experience that you have already journeyed through years ago, that being analog upgrade. Recall my recent email reply to you (about being side-tracked) when I spotted & jumped upon a good turntable deal, which I'm still working on. I've had an older directdrive linear arm TT for years but I always knew something was amiss with the setup because the CD player sounds much better. Well I'm now doing something about that situation & this analog rig could well have belonged to you in the past? Yes it's the VPI HW19MK4 with a Grado Signature arm & the "analog survival kit" platter mat & arm wrap. It came with an older Grado cart. but I just ordered a Grado Statement Reference (the low output wood body model) & an Arcici Airhead platform. Also coming is a DB protractor, HFNRR test record, R.R.L. LP9, etc. I can't wait to get this rig going & hear some real analog at long last. Of course, any hints, tips, or experiences that you may wish to share will be most welcome & appreciated.
There are innumerable, outrageously expensive tweaks and cables available to choose from. In my experience, none are the panacea that some would suggest. The first step is to experiment with placement of your speakers, as this simple adjustment can make an incredible impact on the sound. Make sure your speakers are on a solid footing, preferrably with spikes. Energy expended by the speaker drivers is wasted as distortion of the sound. Make sure your electronics are on a stable platform that is not subject to movement or excessive vibration. This doesn't mean that you have to spend thousands of dollars on a rack made of exotic materials and specialized isolation tweaks. As for power conditioning, having an electrician install a dedicated circuit (20 amp, 10 gauge romex with a hospital grade outlet) for your audio equipment for a few hundred dollars is better than any exotic power cord or line conditioner. Clean the contacts on your cables with Kontak or Radio Shack electronic contact cleaner. Use some decent, preferrably shielded interconnects and power cables, but don't go overboard, as an upgrade of your source component is money better spent. After you have sorted out the basic setup and you component preferences, spend your extra money on tweaks.
Anybody care to guess what my own personal audio
eye-opener/epiphany might have been?Hint-it wasn't cables, room treatments, speaker placement or tubes.


Hi Ken, I bet I know, and I must agree.
Ken: It wouldn't be losing weight and taking regular doses of Viagra would it? Seems that I read about your light and rigid approach somewhere.
I'll say it for Ken. I alternate between valves and SS, between cones and panels, thumping fat cables and weed whacker cord, software formats. But one thing never changes - Ken's Neuance shelves beat all-comers every time. I'm a demon tweaker, but if I ever put anything in place of the Neuances, they are back in seconds.
MSB Dac Link III with upsampling
Ken - On your ear opener, a new room? Or maybe RedKiwi knows you better than the rest of us :)

I can't say there is one that REALLY stands out over the the other in the past 3 years that I have been on a tear with continual upgrades in a quest to realize my goal of, what was that goal?:) This after being sendentary for almost 10 years. There have been many notable ones and then improvements on them. It might seem that the most recent ones are the ones that stand out but I really feel the question is relative to where you "are".

When I discovered hi-end 17 years ago I decided that I liked tubes better than SS from the get go. Problem was I really couldn't afford a tube amp and settled for a tube pre-amp and ss amp. Never have owned a ss pre-amp since and haven't owned a ss amp since 1991. Not to say ss amps/preamps don't have their virtues. They certainly do.

The rest is evolutionary and it is hard to single out one over the other as a musically satisfying system is a synergistic compliation of different components that work together. Ideally they will make music that to the ears of the listener makes analysis of how it sounds irrelevant. The goal is long term enjoyment of the music listening experience. The hobby is improving on that, at least for me.

Recent discovery that is a bargain on a budget is my Oracle TT, SME arm and Benz cartridge, I bought it for a great price and it is fabulous and a giant improvement over my last analog set-up. The other is the Berning zh270 amp that is in my estimation and listening experience the ideal melding of ss and OTL tube amp technology with the sonic benefits of both, an absolutely incredible product. Recently on a more minor note but which is worth noting because I got the involuntary goosebumps when I plugged it into the system, this happened on 2 successive listening sessions btw, was the Ilumnati D-60 digital cable by Kimber. "It's getting better all the tiiime"

What I have learned is that we all have different tastes in how music sounds and to always trust your own ears over the opinions of others. If you haven't already noticed you may ask a simple question and end up with 10 different opinions. We all hear differently, that much I'm certain of. Hope this helps with your query.
1>. First exposure to tube amplification (1989). Bought home Dynaco st70 mk II, and my Infinite Slopes just opened up, and smoothed out. Rickie Lee Jones was in the room!

2>. Replacing Monster Cable Powerline 2 with AudioQuest type 4. Th AQ is nothing special, just that the MC is dreadful! No brainer difference/improvement!

3>. NOS/vintage tubes. Began tube rolling in my fisrt amp - GTA se-40 - and was amazed at the difference different tubes could make. To this day, my favorite and most productive means of tweaking my system!

4>. SET 2a3/45 amplification. Not as dramatic as the other examples, but no less signifigant. Its like another mindset, were your priorities shift. No longer are pyro-technics important but the nuances of the musical ebb-n-flow. Really another world, one much more sophisticated and real!

5>. AC/acoustical treatment. No, not a fine-tuning measure, but a fundamental process in building a proper system. And if you don't consider, you're just playing with yourself.

While I've made a number of upgrades and tweaks along the way to building a good system, the two upgrades that come to mind as truly "ear-opening" are (1) purchasing a pair of audiophile grade speakers (PSB Stratus Gold-i) to upgrade a quality mass-fi system. The huge increase in musical enjoyment bowled me over and awakened me to the possibilities of high resolution audio, getting me hooked in the hobby. (2) adding a Tact RCS 2.0 room correction processor to the system. The surprise here was not so much the delightful and substantial increase in focus, resolution, and smoothness of the sonic experience, but the realization that so much of what I thought was whomping bass capability in the system was actually muddy room reverb... bass drum hits changed from a big, meaty "boom" to a tight thump with microdynamics of skin reverberations. Bass guitar lines became distinct musical notes. The rhythmic underpinnings become so much tighter, so much more "there". Listening to clean bass takes getting used to... at first the sound seems thin, until you bypass room correction processing to hear the mud again.