New amp or new cd player?

With which will i see a bigger improvement in my sound. I have a Mcintosh MA6450 integrated, Gallo 3.1 speakers, and an onkyo dv-sp404 dvd/cd player. Monster interconnects, and transparent music wave speaker cable.

Obviously my weakest link is the onkyo dvd player as a cd player. I was thinking about upgrading it to a naim cd 5i or classe cdp-102. However, I also know that my amp could be more powerful as it is 100wpc into 4ohms, but only 50/75? wpc in to my 8ohm gallo 3.1's.

My question is.. with which change will i see a greater improvemt? In my currently living sitatuon, the mcintosh easily powers my speakers louder than i can play them for an extended amount of time, but will more power equate to more bass? I was thinking about the Classe cap-2100, but will this result in more bass, and better imaging/soundstage/etc, or simply the ability to play louder, which i dont really need.

As for the cd player, I have a hard time believing a cd player can make THAT big of a difference (I am new to this high end audio stuff), although I know they must because all I have read on here and other places around the internet. Although I have also read that a decent cdp used as a transport, and a dac such as the bel canto dac 2, sound nearly as good as some of the very good cd players out there.

So.. long story short.. would i see a bigger improvement if i keep the onkyo as my cdp, and upgrade the amp, or if i keep the mac 6450 and upgrade the cdp?

Personally, I’d change those interconnects first. Maybe a power cord as well.

Not familiar with the Onkyo CDP, but a great source is key to having a great system… so starting there isn’t a bad idea.

Doesn’t Gallo make a sub unit for that speaker system?

Once you have a good signal producing item, the improvement in downstram components will become more apparent.
If I were you, as you said I would go for a CD player - you might also consider TRL modified sony SCD-CE595. It received many great reviews like this one -

Yes the source does make a difference !

Some people think that's the most improtant part - others think the speakers are the most important, but you already have pretty good ones, so I would change the source first.

How about one of the Rega cd players?
I'm a big fan of moving to a new DAC which will get more out of your Onkyo as well as leaving future flexibility to move to either a better transport or a computer/server based approach. Personally, I love the Audio Note DACs though they can be a bit pricey. There are many sub $1K DACs that would give a dramatic boost to your current source.
will more power equate to more bass?

No. Although, of course, the amp can certainly influence how accurately the bass is reproduced. But assuming that the amps being compared have similar sonic character when driving the particular speaker that is being used, the benefit of more power is simply to raise the volume level at which clipping occurs. Clipping meaning severe distortion caused by the amplifier not having enough power to handle volume peaks.

You'll find this thread of interest:

-- Al
What's your budget?
The replacement of your source will out weigh any improvement realized by changing amplification.The front end is where it all begins and everything downstream will benefit accordingly.
Source first, you cannot get better sound downstream without quality upstream. Naim cd5 is a good choice.
The more threads I read, the more I realize that CD player's transports a dying way ahead of their time.
I would buy a really good DAC and play the Onkyo until it dies and replace. That way you still have a great Dac and don't end up with an expensive player as a boat anchor.
Your amp and speakers are both solid.
It' very simple, garbage-in garbage out.
thanks for all the responses.

Blindjim: Interconnects is probably the thing I am most skeptical about. How much do i need to spend to get a good pair of interconnects? I just bought the monsters as a starting point because i didnt want to have to spend 500 dollars or more for interconnects, especially with the onkyo cdp.

Mlauner/Markwatkiss: So a new high end cd player would produce a very obvious and dramatic improvement?

Magnumpi: A good DAC used with my onkyo cdp should produce an obvious improvement?

I guess my overall question to everyone, is how much improvement are we talking about? Is it worth 1500$ on a dac, or 2K on a cdp, or whatever I decide to spend. I know this is a personal decision, as far as whether the difference is worth it, but I mean, in relative terms, how much difference are we talking?

Thanks again
Yes a top tier front end will yield dramatic improvements.Feel free to send me a pm and I'll provide some specific recommendations.
I agree with the general sentiment. It's garbage in / garbage out, and you want the source to produce the best possible sound.

But when you consider your budget, and if you want to stretch $1500 as much as you can, there could be better ways to spend the money than buying a $1500 CDP. For example you can allocate $500 for a budget entry level CDP with good modern DAC, and upgrade your $1500 amp to $2500 amp.

In my previous experience, I've heard more variety in sound of amps under $3000 than CDP under $1500. Amps in $2000-$3000 range tend to differ in sound from one another. Modern CDP under $1500 tend to sound more similar than different. Notable exceptions are exotic DACs (NOS, tubed), or older generation (early 2000's or older) models.

IMHO the balance among the components is just as important, and you don't want to over-invest in one component.
Jylee: Assuming all entry level cdps around 1500-2000 sound the same, i would also assume they sound much better than my 150$ onkyo dvd/cdp?

i am more confused now because it seems everyone has a different opinion, and i pretty much have different people suggesting almost every possibility. haha. not that im complaining. i am glad to have so much input on this topic. thanks everyone.
Definitely do your front end first.

Although I have also read that a decent cdp used as a transport, and a dac such as the bel canto dac 2, sound nearly as good as some of the very good cd players out there.

You might also want to look into PC Audio if that holds any allure to you (having your entire music collection at your fingertips. If done right that method can also sound better than "very good CD players". Yes, you certainly could get a nice DAC and use your current transport, or a better one. A great DAC will make a significant difference to my ears. I don't know how discriminating you are. My wife couldn't care less about this stuff and claims to hear little difference. It's in the ears of the beholder, as it were. It would not be difficult to improve upon an older Onkyo DVD player IMO. To clarify what may be confusing you: Your CD/DVD player already contains a DAC inside. If you used it as a transport you would be bypassing the use of that internal DAC by sending the digital output signal to an external DAC (assuming it has a digital output) via a cable. By all means, it can make a big difference. I'd probably go for a better transport too, especially if yours is old. If you don't have much experience in these realms, I'd suggest you go to a dealer, or to an audio show where you can hear a few examples and see if the differences made in an investment in your front end actually matter to you (or that you can hear them at all). If you have a friend, or a local audiophile club, or anyone who might be patient enough to demonstrate to you what potential may be there for you that would be a big step in the right direction and may save you money, and or open up new worlds.

Assuming all entry level cdps around 1500-2000 sound the same, i would also assume they sound much better than my 150$ onkyo dvd/cdp?

I didn't say they sound the same. It's all about the diminishing return of the investment. What I have suggested is to spend around $500 to buy an entry level dedicated CDP, and use the rest on other area. CDPs with modern design and good quality parts such as Cambridge Audio or even Onkyo DX-7555 are very well received, and you'll probably hear immediate improvement. However, the incremental difference in sound quality between those $500 CDP and $1500 CDP is probably going to be smaller than the difference between $1500 and $2500 amps. If you have higher budget, say $3000, then sure, go ahead and buy $1500 CDP. If your budget is $1500, don't spend them all on one component.
Changing your CDP will make a huge difference and replacing the Monster Cable I/C's will have just as large an affect on the quality of sound. A Raysonic 128, one on Agon for $1175 OBO, is a good player for the price plus you can modify the sound by rolling tubes, a big plus IMO. You would still have $200-300 to spend on I/C's( Transparent Music Link ?) and this would bring the rest of your system up to the level of the Gallo's and Mac, you don't know how good these are because the CDP and I/C are so poor. These changes will blow you away with the improvement and put a BIG smile on your face!!!
For your setup definitely the CDP first. Soundstage, imaging and 3-D realism will be improved by leaps and bounds depending on the quality of the player. You may hear sounds that have not been heard previously from your CDs as detail is improved. Good quality recordings will benefit the most with a good source, and you may find poor quality recordings especially rock music CDs sound worse in comparison to your existing DVD player due to the added detail.

For an audio enthusiast, there will be a perceived difference in changing the CDP.
For a non-audio enthusiast, there wouldn't be any difference and they will all sound just the same.

Uh, IMO Monster cables are Monsters… but that’s just me.

I feel they, as well as the lack of synergy in a previous system were responsible for the outcome of that rig… which wasn’t good.

Right off I’d think long or hard about what I want to wind up with… Are these thoughts towards a new CDP or amp the end of the road? Or are these merely stepping stones to another level of performance which will likely then change again?

In other words, are you attempting to build a quite high end, most resolving and musical system, or just trying to iron out a couple issues and be done with things entirely?

RE Cables
Regardless what CDP or amp, you buy, ya gotta have wires to connect them.

To coin an abused but accurate note from around here, “Everything makes a difference.”

Good cables, again IMO, begin at around $250 a pair. Cardass Neutral Ref, AZ matrix II, MIT shotgun S3, etc. and other’s of course.

Just like in devices, mo will get you mo. Let your budget and ears battle that one out. Try the Cable Co. to investigate some possibilities there.

No matter what you get in a digital player or decoder, time will eventually downgrade it by comparison to current markets in it’s genre.

Sony usually makes a very dynamic player, Cambridge now has a well reviewed one but some accounts say it lacks punch, but is most musical. Many here seem to like rega, and the English brands. Other shoot for the Chinese units to get more bang for the buck.

In new CDP, I wouldn’t look to closely at models under $1000… unless they were gaining critical acclaim everywhere and I was stepping up from a lesser perch. I paid about that for a used sony as one of my first moves around here, a SCD XA 777es. I had and enjoyed it for years! Sold it recently. Other Sony models that come to mind as decent are the SCD 777es. Lots of these have been moded to perform far better too.

Mod right has done a lot of good on Dennon models too… and there are a few for sale right now, like in the 3910 modles which play everything I think. Some of these will cost over a grand though.

Maybe for now just shoot for a top Rega preowned and recently bought or lightly used, or a Jolita tubed unit, or for a wee bit more an Audio Arrow. Then add some upscale cables to allow that signal to pass along as unadulterated as possible, by trying some from the Cable co.

You’ve got a lot of headroom right now. Don’t let your head spin over the choices. Many are very good so the choice isn’t that hard. Excellent and perfect cost a good bit more so just get in where ya fit in now, and later on sell the whatever, and buy another!

The note on PC audio is a good one too. That’s why I sold my CDP. The pc performance level had surpassed it.

The better the DAC, the better that deal will be in the end.
The quality of sound rises as dollars spent rises. At some point the diminishing returns factor comes into play. Does the increase in dollars spent gain that much improvement.
If you ever get a chance go to an audio show or go to an area that has numerous audio stores. Listen!
You will come to the realization that there are components at a fairly low price that easily outperform much more expensive ones. As you begin to cut through the bull, you'll find that you can put together a very good system at a reasonable price.
Lots of Oppos used as transports at RMAF 2007, that seems to exemplify the point.
Magnumpi205 is right... I have an oppo too. it's performance level, arguably, came within 20-25% of my older xa 777es.

BTW the xa was $3K MSRP. The oppo DV 980H cost $175 shipped.

The comparison was closer with each going thru a good DAC... to the point where it became difficult for me to argue it with myself.

In essence, I've now got $2000 or so into a CDP playback system. But better performance, and lots better flexibility with differing formats and functions.The DAC even made my mega CDP sound lots better with only a cheap optical cable on it.
I tried out a friend's Oppo 980 and was not impressed with the digital output through my DAC. It was OK but was handily spanked by my Modwright 999es. There may have been something amiss as I later tried an Oppo 983, which I still have. Same digital cable, same DAC, same system - outstanding performance from that transport / interface. Alas, I no longer have the Modwright to compare it to. I was also disappointed with the DVD video performance of the 980, but to be fair did not tweak it much. The 983 video is outstanding - the very best I've seen just short of Blu-Ray. I can understand the video performance being better, but really don't get why the transport performance is so markedly different. From the standpoint of the 983 I'd strongly endorse the Oppo option. Once their BluRay player comes out you'll surely see many on the used market.

Also on the used market, at just above $1K a Modwright platinum signature truth Sony will be kicking butt and taking names.

IC's do certainly make a difference and Monster would be easy to improve upon, however, my opinion differs in that I'd still get rid of the player first as the investment there has potential to yield more given a $1K+ budget. There are also inexpensive IC options that may better your Monster. Signal, Blue Jeans, Anti-cable, are just a few that come to mind. On the used market for a song. Again, I'd suggest auditioning some options to make sure you can hear and care about the difference. There is definitely a diminishing point of return on investment and that will vary with every individual.
Definitely get a better source! But, as mentioned above, if your cables aren't up to snuff, you aren't getting the most out of your system. I had a Consonance Reference 2.2 (6H30 tubed CDP) which sell for around $700 used: a very decent unit. I then went to a upgraded Sony DVP-9000es model with Vacuum State level 6 mods. Sure, it sounded a little better, but I wasn't hearing everything. due to other problems in the chain (cables, lack of room treatments, noisy preamp). Since I have dialed in my system, the difference in the new CDP are obvious: it is so much more dynamic, instruments are layered, the soundstage is extended. But, I had to have the rest of my system at that (very high) level to really allow the player to come into it's own.

It is kind of like a car: you may have a big engine and great suspension, but if your tires are bald or your gas tank leaks, you won't be going very far or very fast. Upgrading one thing at a time doesn't yield obvious results at first: you will need a system that is at the level of that upgrade to really appreciate it.

Looking at the rest of your system, pick up a $1000-1500 (used) source, even better if it is a modded Sony (Modwright or Vacuum State) as you will get great bang for the $ with either one of those. Modded players don't hold resale value well: bad for the re-seller, but good for you! A stock player at that price won't touch a well-modded unit: you would have to spend 2-3x as much.

I also agree with the cable idea: some good cables available for under $100 used, especially if it is sold internet-only. I would also put money into room treatments: the best money I have ever spent on my system is for room treatments. Getting a $1000 CDP and dropping $500 with GIK Acoustics will be much more rewarding than spending $1500 on a used CDP.

If you live near audio stores, I would try to audition the gears suggested so far, in your system, in your room, and see which one you like.

In the end, that's the important thing, isn't it - that y o u enjoy it.

As someone suggested, using computer as the source is also a fun option - you can have your entire library at your finger tip.

You can also stream from sights like rhapsody and (free sight), and have millions of songs at your finger tip - not even kings of the past had that !

If you want to go this rout, check these links here on audiogon :

I hope I am not confusing you with more choices, but you can get good sound from your computer, and it's so convenient !

I see the interconnects as your first weak link. You should do some swapping and breaking in. Those IC's could be choking the sound before your McIntosh even gets ahold of the signal. Try some Kimber Heroes or something from Transparent that's about the same or a little higher quality level than your WaveLengths.

Next, is it just me, or are high priced CD players a wrong-headed approach to digital sound? So much of the cost of an expensive CD player goes into getting a jitterless read off the polycarbonate disc, which itself is prone to built-in jitter plus the jitter that results from reading from a spinning piece of plastic. Why not go for a playback system that minimizes or eliminates jitter from the equation?


Get a Lavry or Benchmark DAC. I'm not sure about the Lavry, but the Benchmark does its own re-clocking, so any jitter in the initially read data stream should largely be irrelevant. With that in mind you could continue to use your Onkyo as a transport. Or get an Oppo DV-980H for a whopping $169.

Get a Macintosh laptop and use it as a server. I think iTunes 8.0 or later on a MacBook (playing lossless digital music files) sounds better than a lot of CD players.

If you go with a computer-based solution, you can also improve the sound with a USB-based DAC such as the Benchmark DAC-1 USB or something (far more expensive) from Wavelength.

Get one or two iPod Classics to use as servers. Using ALC you could fit about 250 GB (420 hours) of lossless music on each one. Get a Wadia iTransport to extract the digital data stream and send it to a good DAC.
Thanks for all the responses. I actually just ordered some Transparent MusicLink Super IC's. Was thinking about picking up a bel canto 2 dac, but didnt see any available here on Audiogon.

Still thinking about buying a used cdp, 2K$ and under.
Maybe the classe 102, mac 201, or even the naim 5i.

I am definately interested in going the hard disk route, just havent decided what the best way to implement it would be. I have all my music on itunes from now on my laptop, but it is encoded in 192kps AAC, so that i can fit my entire collection on an ipod classic (and so it fits on my laptop for that matter). I am thinking about buying a apple mini, or whatever its called, and hooking that up to my system and my flat screen, and using it solely as a music server. Basically it would be like a more expensive apple tv, although I would have the ability to burn cds directly to it in a lossless format without affecting my collection of aac files for ipod use. I like simplicity and I dont want a buncha different little boxes in my av unit. BUt thats another issue, and how I should implement that is a whole 'nother thread.. Looking forward to responses when I get around to asking that question..

I owned a 6450 for about 1 year. I would suggest some other upgrades to bring your system to a similar component level. While you are doing this get out and listen to some other brands and some tube amps too.

The 6450 is good, better for me IMO than the 6300 because it has nice controls to fill in if the CD is flat or if you want a little more body.

I think you will have to spend an additional 1k on an amp after you sell the 6450 to make much difference and perhaps $500 on a cd player, maybe an Apollo or something. Can you be more specific about what you want to hear differently in your system?

Perhaps this is a little too abstract of a description but I feel like right now my system sounds very good (this is my first endeavor into high end audio), but there is nothing amazing about it. I guess I would like a deeper soundstage, and more of a three dimensioanl feeling to the sound. When I auditioned the gallo's they were being powered by a marantz reference amp, and they sounded more spectacular, atleast in the highs. Honestly, I prefer the balance of the sound with my 6450 over the marantz, but the soundstage and imaging were better with the marantz..There was more space and air with the marantz Maybe this was the room?

What do you think of picking up a classe cap-2100 here on audiogon to replace the mac? I like the look of the mac alot, and I would rather try other things before switching the amp, but Ive heard very good things about the cap-2100. I have heard the cap2100 with b&w 805s and really like it, but i guess Id have to do a direct comparison with it and my mac to see if thats the difference im looking for.

I also like the bass/treble controls on the 6450. I havent ever had to use the treble control yet, but I do like using the bass control to thicken up thin sounding cds or adding extra bass punch in certain songs. I also like the 6450 because it is not as big as all the current macs. It seems the new ones are massive when they dont need to be. Their amps are way bigger than pretty much everyone elses.

As for now, I have new IC's on the way and I will probably update the cdp before changing out the mac.
Do one thing at a time. Put the new ICs in and give them at least 50 hours to run in before evaluating again. Otherwise, if you do a bunch of changes simultaneously, you may just get a mish-mash that still lacks synergy.

Instead of buying another CD player, look into getting a good DAC--a Lavry A10, Benchmark DAC-1, etc. A couple days ago I got an email from Audio Advisor offering the PS Audio Digital Link III on sale at $699, but they haven't updated the web page to corroborate that yet.

Taking ‘very good’ to excellent will take a bit more than either an amp or a source.

Given money matters, think carefully here as to which path you choose to follow. Just CDP…. CDP + DAC…. Or ….PC + DAC…

In each case the DAC, either on board or as a separate box, is the key item.

Putting $1000 > $2000 into a one box solution (CDP only), should be an improvement. Especially if it offers versatility and performance, as in a multi format modded player such as a Mod Right Denon 3910 fully loaded… and there are some for sale here now.

Were I to look now for a player, it would need to be multi format. Performance levels have risen dramatically, and it’s cost effective.

So there’s $2K wrapped up in a one disc at a time any disc player.

Apogee, Benchmark, Lavry, or BC DAC 3, amongst others, will bare more flexibility as they will encompass more digital front end sources and gain you still better overall performance.

If you’re eventually going to PC based, way more variety and ease… once done properly.

Consequently, if the CDP one box fix is the thought here and now, and the PC idea is laid to rest on the back burner… you will almost double your investment in the longer run to accomplish adding PC source playback to your options by spending greatly on just a CDP now.

That’s what I did. CDP first…. Then DAC & PC.

In hindsight, I’d have been better off to get myself a great DAC (USB or not), with outstanding jitter control, and gone on from there…. Given the performance level I see now from just such a purchase.

Once the source and cabling are elevated, the down stream items can be reassessed as needs/desires may be in due course…. Or not at all.

Seldom will one move (acquisition) in a system raise the overall performance level to such a state no other parts of it need addressing. Unless of course one’s system is at the very brink of outstanding performance already, yet it is found to be lacking in only one area.

Naturally, each of us makes the aforementioned call…. Or our family and/or wallet intervene to do so for us.

Making additions I think should be those with lasting effect, certain gain, and afford you as much flexibility as possible for current and upcoming affairs.

If a DAC is to be added later on, a source with the best drive should be the thinking I suppose as that’s about all it’ll be doing so it ought to do that exceptionally well. A DAC will definitely change the sound of what ever CDP is attached to it. A thought for one also should limit the investment into a CDP as well.

Getting a DAC which can thereafter be enhanced or receive physical modifications is all the better as you will be able to keep up with the tech changes digital has been experiencing in recent years and will continue to obtain.
Yes a fully tricked out Denon 3910 is a serious contender.I have one with the latest propreitary technology and it's as good as it gets.The internal DAC will rival some of the best available.