My System....where to start on the upgrade path

I’ve been in this hobby for only 2 years, so I have much to learn. I have questions about my overall system and didn’t know where to post them so I thought I’d give this forum a try. I read many of the forum comments on a weekly basis but I don’t post often because I haven’t felt that I had a solid enough background to share my opinion. I do have a very good ear, so I don’t mind sharing something I’ve heard if I think it sounded especially good.

I have decided that something is my system is lacking. I want the music to open up more. I want the various instruments to stand out more. I like listening to music at low levels, but I want to be able to raise the volume to real world levels and still retain that separation without the music sounding “jumbled” As you can see I don’t know all the proper audiophile terms so please just bare with me.

Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers
Pathos Classic MKIII integrated with Electro-Harmonix 6922EH tubes
Cambridge 840c CD player
Thoren TD-160 HD turntable(modified by George Merrill
Ortofon AS-212S Tonearm
Dynavector 20X Cartridge
Sutherland PhD MC phono preamplifier
Ginko Cloud Audio Vibration platform(turntable)
Acoustic Zen Satori Speaker Cables
Acoustic Zen Wow interconnects
Bruce Brisson’s Giant Killer power conditioner( I can’t hear the difference with it)
Room: 23’7” x 15’4” x 9’3”
Speakers are along the short wall.
4 large plate glass windows along one of the long walls can be covered by heavy blackout Roman shades.
Glass sliding doors on the short wall opposite the speakers can be covered with heavy blackout drapes.
Heavy rugs on the Pergo covered concrete floor
Lots of upholstered furniture

Will tube rolling in the Pathos make a dramatic difference?
Amp-speaker match-up?

I’m trying to figure out where to start. I feel like I need more bass.
I know that this is painted with a broad brush, but if I can gets some good feedback, then maybe I can ask some more specific questions. Thanks Catfishbob
You have a nice system. In my limited experience rolling tubes, they can make a big difference. I hear matched tubes are the way to go. Maybe you should look at upgrading your source?
"I want to be able to raise the volume to real world levels and still retain that separation without the music sounding “jumbled”

That suggests something limiting in the amp/speaker integration.

The Pathos is a gorgeous and very nice piece, but a 70 watt tube integrated may not be the optimal amp to drive those speakers to their max.

Tube rolling might help tweak the sound and is probably the least expensive thing to try to have a positive effect, but I think your focus to obtain optimal results should be on finding the right amp to drive the speakers optimally to their potential.

Those are small bass drivers on the AZ speakers. I have never heard these before but in general smaller drivers, may not hold up as well at high volumes as larger drivers, though having two in play can make a difference.

I'd look to try a high power high current SS amp with those speakers just to see what they are capable of. If that is not enough, then perhaps a different speaker design that can go louder without stress could be what the doctor ordered.

At this point you can then compare the Pathos and see how that compares to a beefier amp with the AZs.

There is nothing wrong with your digital source (the Cambridge) so I would definitely not look to start there.

You might try running the amp without any power conditioner and see if that helps deliver more oomph, if that is not the configuration in play already.

In order of importance:

1. Get the acoustics of the room correct. Consider tube traps and RPG room treatments. (You may be closer to better sound than you think.)
2. Get the power correct. Spend some money on an electrician, dedicated lines, power cord upgrades like Shunyata ect...

3. Evaluate each change before you make another change to your system.
Catfishbob, You said you want more bass. Maybe it's midbass you are lacking. If this is the case you may want to set your system up on the long wall. The long wall will give you more midbass energy. However, you will need room treatment on the wall behind the listening position. Heavy draperies will do for now. You should also get a much wider soundstage and a nice open sound on the long wall.

Don't do any tube rolling at this point. Tube rolling is for much later in the game. The tubes that are selected by the manufacturer are usually the best sounding anyway. At least you know they are biased properly.

If you don't hear any difference with your power conditioner, get rid of it. You most likely don't need one where you live and your power conditioner is only complicating your system. The simple systems always sound the best. I have tried numerous power conditioners without any improvement in sound quality.

Room acoustics has become very popular. Too popular I think. All rooms have their own character, but they are not all bad. I think room treatment should be used when needed, but it isn't a cure all and room treatment is easily over done.

Here are some ideas that won't cost anything. Try these before you do anything else and only do one thing at a time as it is easy to get lost.

You have assembled an interesting system for only being at it for a couple of years.
that is your system after two years?! i'm impressed, well done. your speakers are quite sensitive as well, with a friendly impedance curve, so perhaps it's the 'voice' of your speakers you're not happy with.

instead of going SS by default, you could also go with more sensitive speakers, or equally sensitive speakers with more of the traits you are looking for. that, and also i'd try your system along the long wall just to see what happens.

your whole system seems quite high end and balanced as it is already, so any changes will be merely adjusting the personality of the sound. you should be able to get the sound you want without spending too much more. unless of course you want to go HIGHER end, in which case, have fun... =)
Thanks guys. The long wall is probably "no can do". I've put some thought in trying to do it, but my my house is small and my living room, where the system is, has a fireplace and four large picture windows on one long wall, and two large doorways, a pass through window into the kitchen and a small wet bar on the other long wall. I would love to try it though.

I have put a lot of thought into room acoustics. I even looked at a Lyndorf room correction devise at RMAF last fall. I could put some dampening on the wall behind the speakers. Every other square foot of wall space is occupied with doorways or furniture. I could buy a couple of thousand dollars worth of those tiny Tibetan prayer bowls and spread them about! I found the company, "Eighth Nerve" that seemed to have something that I might could have used, but they seem to have gone out of business.

I wish I could TRY some different components but I dont have local dealers.

What magnitude of improvement could one expect to hear after installing separate electrical circuits?

I went to RMAF last year just to find out what I might be missing. My impression was that I wasnt as impressed with most of the systems as I thought I would be. There were a few standouts. I found myself really loving rooms that had SET amps. I was really impressed with the Harbeth speakers and I had never even heard of Harbeth.

Here is a question that probably ought to have its own thread. Five people go into a room to listen to a system. After listening to the same music they all comment. One says that the amp is superb so good in fact that he might consider one but he doesnt really like the speakers. One person loves the speakers, but says that they would sound superb with tubes. One person says that the turntable is excellent. Another is impressed with the cables.

I dont get it. How can one isolate which component is the reason for the good sound. I really dont see how one can separate the component individually. Someone explain this to me, please. Thanks for your comments
"All rooms have their own character, but they are not all bad. I think room treatment should be used when needed, but it isn't a cure all and room treatment is easily over done. "

I like that advice!

"I wish I could TRY some different components but I dont have local dealers. "

More and more companies that market via the web offer low or no risk/cost in home trial periods, or satisfaction guarantees. That is the best way to try different things in YOUR room/system.

Buying used and not overpaying off ebay or Audiogon is another way to try things without taking a financial hit. If you don't like what you try, you can sell it with little or no risk/cost incurred.

" I was really impressed with the Harbeth speakers and I had never even heard of Harbeth. "

I'm assuming the Harbeth's have a different sound that you like than your speakers. That might mean you should consider trying them. Or it could mean that the the harbeths you heard were just set up better to shine in some way than your setup. Or a combo of both. Hard to say for sure.

"How can one isolate which component is the reason for the good sound."

Its usually not one component, but how well things work together.

Room/speaker/amp synergy/integration is the biggest factor in general I would assert.

Once you have that down, then you can tweak sources, wires, power, etc to fine tune further.

You have a nice amp. You have nice speakers. You have a room with certain constraints that you have to deal with (everyone does to some extent).

First, make sure you experiment with speaker placement as much as you can to see what is possible with what you have.

Then, if needed, I would do an in home trial of a good high power high current SS Class D amp to compare with your Pathos. That will help you determine what your speakers are capable of doing. Then you can decide whether to change speakers or not, and then work to make sure the amp you go with can take the speakers you like to the max.

As you experiment with different pieces, be sure to continuously work to optimize speaker location in that this can change as things upstream change.

Once the room/speaker/amp combo is locked in, then tweak away as needed, but I really believe there is no reason to consider replacing the Cambridge for a long time if ever. It is a fine sounding unit that should work well in most any rig.
Mapman....thanks for your response. I have thought about an in home audition of another amp. Nuforce is one that comes to mind. What other companies out there offer in home auditions? I don't have a pre-amp. I would really like to try tubes. Robert Lee is always recommending various tube amps for the Adagios, but it always seems like the "flavor of the month" when I have spoken with him. In all fairness He might not be able to understand my Southern accent. He is a very nice guy even though I sometimes have a hard time following what he says.

Speaker placement. I have tried to drastically change the speaker placement. Like most situations I have limitations. We live in this room so I can only place the speakers so far from the front wall. I have tried pulling them way out, but I didnt seem to get a huge boost from that. I tried the "Golden rule" method to place them, but that put them so far out as to make the room unusable. I assume that some speakers are more difficult and more finicky with placement. The front of my speakers about 36 inches from the front wall. They are 92" apart center to center and 42 and 52 inches from the side wall respectively(measured to the center of the speaker). I don't always listen from tha sweet spot. I have to move a chair to the sweet spot if that's my intent. thanks for the response and suggestions.
I've owned Adagio Jrs. for 3 years - along with a powered sub. I've discovered that they are very responsive to tweaks of all kinds. Etbaby has offered excellent advice. The room and quality of power make a huge difference.

I use a 35w/ch p/p tube amp to drive them. My 300w/ch SS amp offers a tad more mid-bass punch but generally makes the sound thinner and somewhat sterile. I much prefer the tube amp - which sits on Tuneblocks which sit on a Sistrum Svelte shelf. This tweak adds a bit more punch in the mid-bass along with slightly cleaner highs. I also recommend aftermarket footers for the speakers - which are discussed in other threads.

I agree with Skickaskinka. Until you compare other components in your system in your home, it will be a constant guessing game. Have fun! Be patient!
To add to my thoughts above, I'm not a fan of Electro-Harmonix 6922EH tubes. In my preamp, they sounded fairly dull.

What tube and SS amps specifically do you have?
Hi Mapman,

CR Developments Artemis mono-blocks (tube) and Carver Lightstar Reference (SS).
Steakster, what footers do you recommend. What 6922 tubes do you prefer?
Please see PM. Thanks!
I agree that room treatment can be overdone, but the "jumbled" description sounds like reflections are confusing the sound when you turn up the volume. I would definitely put some panels at the first reflection points. Atsacoutics makes some very effective and inexpensive 4" thick panels.
I always find it intersting when another expert audiophile gives advice whose system is not setup properly. It all sounds good until the system photo is viewed.
Rrog said, "I always find it intersting when another expert audiophile gives advice whose system is not setup properly. It all sounds good until the system photo is viewed."

Rrog, you "talk" alot and give plenty of advice. Lets see your system.
Acoustat6, Show us your system first. I promise not to laugh.
NO, I asked you first. And you said, "I always find it intersting when another expert audiophile gives advice whose system is not setup properly. It all sounds good until the system photo is viewed."

Come clean.

Acoustat6, My system is an iPod with audiophile grade earbuds.
1. How can different people hear different things from different components listening to the same system in the same room? Perhaps these people have heard some of the gear previously and have a clear idea in their mind's ear what it should sound like, and are hearing new things up or down stream as a result of the unfamiliar piece in the system. Or they are full of horse pucky...

2. Harbeths definitely are voiced differently than the Adagios. I like Harbeth's, but some think they are overly warm and euphonious in the mids, and that their resonant cabinets make all recordings start to sound the same - like the box. Others bliss out on all the musicality. You should give a listen in your system if you can - I suggest the Compact 7's.
i would upgrade to hollowgram 2.More of everything bro!
knownothing....I believe that each individual's hearing can be very different. When you consider the mechanics of the ear and wiring in the brain how could 2 people be be hearing the same thing? I had never really thought of this before I had nerve damage to the nerves in the brain that control hearing in the left ear. Now,I don't like certain restaurants because of their acoustics. The din of noise in some places makes it very uncomfortable for me. If you have been around people with hearing aids you know what I'm talking about. They experience the same sensation. I can still tell the difference in the sound of a system just like anyone else. I have a keen sense of pitch and timing. If a turntable's speed is just a little off it drives me crazy. I am probably overly sensitive to room acoustics. I am assuming that the different speakers might have an affect on this.

The first thing I have done to address this is to order Jim Smiths book "Get Better Sound". I am hoping that this book will help me make some tough decisions about systems set ups and the limitations I might have regarding WAF as I don't have the option of a dedicated listening room. I have too much furniture that really has to stay. There is no point in buying more expensive equipment if i can't set it up properly. It is like the analogy of buying a Ferrari and only being able to drive it to the grocery store. I might however find that different equipment might sound better given my spacial limitations.

Can you enlighten me on why you would suggest the Compact 7s over other Harbeths specifically the SHL-5s?

The P3ESR's are out for your room size. I really like the newer Compact 7's - I have been impressed by their inherent musicality and balance. They may be a bit bass shy in your room, and it is my belief - but not proven out by extensive listening tests on my part - that the SHL-5's will play louder than the Compact 7's without losing their composure. So for your stated needs, the SHL-5's may be a better choice. Do you have the option of listening to the different Harbeth models before buying?
Knownothing....You can read my discussion on Harbeths in the adagio vs Harbeth thread.

Suffice it to say that I've heard the P3SR's and the SLH-5's and loved both of them with the Slh-5's being the ones I was most interested in. I wish I could have an in home demo. If I could I might buy them on the spot but since I can't do that I would like to work with what I have to see if I can get more out of my system. If the SHL-5's liked my amp then changing speakers would be the most cost effective way to go. I havent heard the compact 7's.

You may want to put your amp in your car and drive the 12 hours again to the distributors house to listen to it powering the S-HL5's. Or, just wait until a pair come up used, buy them and try them at your home. My guess is that should you decide they are not for you, you could resell them on Agon and would be unlikely to lose more on the whole tranaction than the cost of another 12 hour car trip.
The dealer in question is 1600 mi from where I am now, but I think there is one closer. I want to work on my set up, electrical hookup, and tweaks before i give up on these speakers. thanks
Well,I thought I should give you an update on my progress. I had a MAJOR upgrade by tube rolling. I replaced the Electro-Harmonix in my Pathos with 2 Voskhod rocket logo 6h23 cryo'ed tubes. The difference was stunning. I dont know if my EH tubes were weak or something but the improvement was nothing short of astonishing. I had no idea that tubes could make this much difference.
I purchased a couple of Wireworld power cords that were recommended by another Pathos owner. The two different chords definitely sound different and I'm letting them break in before I fiddle further.
My speakers sound very good after these changes.
Thanks for checking in and sharing your experience with the different tubes.