Next Level Budget Upgrade


Just discovered this great forum.

Over the past 1.5 years I've put together a low-end system that I'm very pleased with.

This is the PC side:

Media Jukebox PLUS 8.0.399
Install Path: C:\Program Files\J River\Media Jukebox\

CPU: Intel Pentium 4 1709 MHz MMX
Memory: Total - 785 MB, Free - 526 MB
OS: Microsoft Windows XP Workstation 5.1 Service Pack 1 (Build 2600)

Internet Explorer: 6.0.2800.1106
ComCtl32.dll: 6.00.2800.1106
Shlwapi.dll: 6.00.2800.1106
Shell32.dll: 6.00.2800.1145
wnaspi32.dll: Internal ASPI Layer

I output through a SB Audigy to a Harman Kardon 3370 stereo receiver. That drives a pair of Paradigm Atom bookshelf speakers in a typical New York studio apartment--maybe 300 square feet.

I listen mostly to jazz and blues--some classical--all reasonably encoded mp3's, ogg's or ape's.

I'm considering the following upgrades and wrestling with the question of how I get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of listening quality:

1. Replacing the HK solid state receiver with a nOrh SE 9 integrated tube amplifier? Or alternative?

2. Replacing the SB Audigy with a Stereo Link 1200 USB device? Or alternative?

3. Replacing the Paradigm Atoms with the best speakers I can find for $300-400?

Of course I'd love to do it all. But finances demand I take it in small bites/bytes.

I would really appreciate opinions/recommendations.

BTW I am amazed at the quality of the sound I'm getting out of gear and sources that a lot of people would hold their nose at.

I've recently listened to some very high end stuff and was shocked to come home and find that my little rig didn't sound all that bad.

Maybe my ears suck?

Listening to: 'Broadway' by 'Scott Hamilton-Jimmy Bruno' on Media Jukebox
Hey,Cam. Your ears may not suck,but you may be deaf, huh? -- Ok. mom never taught me how to be nice (she tried tho.)---What your condition is is what one might call beginner's ears. /or untrained ears.-- The more you become familar with equipment--- This means owning and or listening to better and better over a period of time-- you will discern more and more with time. You could go out and buy a 40k system.-- You would ,after time with it,be able to discern it from another 40k system.
You shouldn't be so surprised that you like what you're listening to. You also shouldn't be surprised if you get some snide comments about it. Just ignore them.

Can't help you with the link. If you want a tube sound, buy a tube amp. But decide you want a tube sound first. (Given your overall approach, I'm slightly surprised that you do.) If not, I'd live with the HK.

300 sq. ft. is not a small room, so you could consider larger speakers, or adding a subwoofer (if the neighbors won't mind). Paradigm makes a range of subs that should complement the Atoms nicely. I think you'd get more from adding a sub than replacing the Atoms, if your ceiling is $400.

Thanks for the feedback.

You raise a good question. Do I want a "tube sound?"

I'm not sure I really know what a "tube sound" is.

I have a friend who is a serious audiophile with very high end gear--Blue Circle amp/preamp--$5K speakers, etc. He has suggested the tube amp. But he's a tube freak. I was at his place a couple of days ago. His system sounded great, of course.

Where I find my rig falling short is in its "musicality." I'd like to get a more musical sound--more warmth and depth.

I recently repositioned the speakers so that most of my listening time now is right in the sweet spot. It has made a tremendous difference. Suddenly I've got a real sound stage going on.

If you could help clarify the "tube sound" issue for me that would be helpful.

Thanks again.
Well, people who actually own tubes and like them would be better sources on what "tube sound" is and why they prefer it. I'll defer to them.

My point was that you shouldn't go chasing after tubes because some audiophile you know (or don't know, for that matter) told you tubes were better. On a technical level--especially at your price point--they are almost certainly worse, although there's no law that says you can't prefer something that's technically inferior.

You repositioned your speakers, and found an improvement? I'm impressed. Usually it takes newbie audiophiles a couple of iterations of exchanging gear before they realize that speaker positioning matters more than what electronics you buy.

Given that you like the Atoms, and they work well in your room, I'm even more inclined to say, add a subwoofer. It will give you bass you're now lacking, and take some of the pressure off the midrange drivers in your Atoms.
If you want more musicality, I would work from the software end. Uncompressed wave files will sound much more musical than the MP3's or the other compressed media. Unfortunately, that could be a VERY expensive upgrade if you have to buy the music again.

Otherwise, I'd go with the sub. A paradigm sub can be had used for under $200. Make sure that you get one where you can change the crossover frequency, as many designed for computer audio have a fixed frequency that is too high (120 Hz?). This would free up the atoms to be quite a bit more musical.