next step for my setup? advice appreciated


I've been on an audiophile quest for the last 2 years and I'm at a standstill and would like advice as to my next piece of equipment. Here is a summary of my journey so far:

I started with a Yamaha Surround receiver through Boston Acoustics bookshelf speakers (CR77) with a Sony multi DVD player.

I've ended with older Rotel separates (RB980bx amp, RSP980 processor running 2.1 channel analog.) Oppo 980 dvd player for cds and movies, also itunes into airport express. Speakers are GR Research DIY kit (AV2) and a 10" canadian sub, the brand name escaping me currently.

I'm very happy with the sound and with the bang for the buck, but you know, grass is greener etc, so here are my questions:

-- would a tube buffer between pre and amp help? I see the Yaqin is fairly inexpensive, but also read diverse opinions.

-- how about a tube DAC? Would this vastly improve the Oppo and Itunes? Both are currently analog into the Rotel.

down the road, I'd like to explore tube amplification, but for now I'm considering building my own DAC or trying a tube buffer.

any thoughts appreciated


Steve Cuss

Obviously, the sound quality is up several notches now and I'm very happy
My 2 cents... go for a tubed DAC !
I believe that the strength of the Oppo is as a transport rather than a stand-alone player .

Good luck .
The question is very hard to answer unless you state your budget.
Tubed DAC is a step closer to the right direction IMHO. Tube buffer, not so much. If you can swing it you should try tubed preamp though, either to replace your Rotel processor, or the one with HT bypass option so it can be integrated to your system. Then you'll get the tube magic for all your sources, not just for the DAC.
I think you're on that right track by investing some money into a DAC, a tubed DAC or any DAC for that matter will make vast improvements in your system.

I must admit that I'm not familiar with your brand of DIY Speakers, but if you're happy with them, then it's a non-issue, but this may be another area that I would focus on. You may want to consider a more refined speaker, an older pair of Sonus Faber comes to mind, I've always felt that they match really well with Rotel.

I think your good with the Rotel Separates for now, as I've always enjoyed their sound as well.

Let the journey continue....

Pass on the tube buffer,it's just another link in the chain,spend the money on a DAC.
Hi Guys,

thanks very much for the input. As a guitarist, I'm very interested in going tube somehow, but don't have the budget for it.

My budget is sub $500 and I'm a DIYer, so I'm happy to build my own DAC or even attempt a preamp.

Jylee: so you're suggesting I can add a tube pre to the pro and run them separately? I assume I'd have to reconfigure how my sub is setup. (My processor sends out an LFE signal just to the sub.)

As for the GR Research speakers, I'm very happy with them and would only upgrade them to a higher end GR Research. People make very bold claims about this kit, but having built them and compared them to paradigm studios and B&W Cms, I think the claims are valid. All that to say, I'm very happy with them.

Thanks again for the input. I'll explore building a Tube DAC or researching tube pre or power amp


I believe that the weak link is your DVD/CD player. First, I really don't see that there is an advantage to a tube DAC in this price range over a SS DAC, and I am a tube guy. There are much more important performance features to a DAC at this price than tube or SS. But really, why increase complexity, and jitter, for that matter? Why not just sell the OPPO and get a really good DVD/CD player? The Denon 3910 comes to mind, which was recently a two grand unit that is now selling within your price range. No digital cable, no added jitter, no two boxes, and it will make your regular DVDs look better as well as drastically improving your audio. If you are sold on the DAC idea, I think that busting the budget a bit to get a Benchmark DAC1 would be a real step up.
Yes, I think a tube preamp will go a long way. Your Oppo will also go a long way. You can integrate stereo preamp to your processor. You'll need HT bypass output from the preamp. Integrating with subwoofer can be done as well. If the sub has dual input, you can connect one from LFE output of processor and one from right channel of the preamp.

Glad to see some DIY speaker builders out there. I've built the Gr-Research AV-1, three pairs of Murphy Blaster MBOW-1 for various friends, the Ellis Audio 1801B, and a number of Selah Audio Subs. I think my favorite of the bunch is the MBOW-1 matched with a sub. Amazing sound for the price.

Regarding your question, I am with others here; scratch the idea of a tube buffer. I like the idea of a tube DAC, but I am not familiar with any DIY designs. One issue that you will have with less expensive tube DACs is that you might lose linearity at the frequency extremes. An example of such would be some of the MHDT Labs offerings; not necessarily flat in frequency response, but very musical sounding. Throwing a tube in with your solid state amp will do some nice things.

A decent tube preamp kit is the Trancendent Sound Grounded Grid. The sound is more quick and light than slow and heavy, but the kit directions are easy to follow. The only thing I didn't like about the kit are the stock volume control and the cheap rotator switch, but I swapped them out.

Also, another option would be to build the Pass Labs B1 buffer, although you would have to source the parts yourself. You can buy circuit boards and matched jfets from the PassDIY web site. Its not tube based, but it sounds very good.

Where are you located?
A DAC will sure help out the 980. Tube or SS, that's your call.

I'd prefer add a tube preamp at this point were I in your shoes.

Before that though, I'd consider cabling. Power cables, ICs... etc.

That Oppo and the Rotel amp both respond well to power cord upgrades. Also, I'd fiddle with the isolation (footers) and maybe even a damping weight set on top of the Oppo.... I prefer Herbie's iso cups with the Ebony balls for mine.

it will suprise you what just some footers and a pc for that Oppo can do. For the amp too.

A tube preamp however would my my goal ultimately.
Hi Folks,

This is great feedback:

I'll likely start by adding a DAC to the system seeing as how it will improve two components - the itunes/airport and the oppo. New power cords and footers for the oppo and rotel sound like a simple improvement to make.

After that I'll start digging into tube preamps and see what I can do with a DIY kit.

As for GR Research and DIY speaker kits, I'm hooked on DIY. The Murphyblaster is on my long term list, as is the GR Research Neo2x.

I'm in Broomfield, CO by the way.

thanks folks for all your guidance. It is a fun and addicting journey

Pursuing value often proves out as a good path... and a DAC made great sense to me too as I use several digital sources.
Hi Folks,

just a quick update as I have greatly appreciated everyone's feedback. I bought a Valab DAC and it offers a definite improvement over the analog inputs.

I since found a Rotel RSP985 on a'gon which is a digital pre/pro and I'll sell the Valab and my rotel analog pre/pro.

The tube bug is biting, so I'll either pursue a tube preamp or possible keep the rotel and try a tube power amp. I have also since discovered the Peachtree Nova which is above my price range, but looks like a great integrated tube amp/DAC. Maybe one day.

Meanwhile GR Research sent me their Neo2x speakers to try and they are incredible. This whole hobby can be deadly.

thanks again for all the helpful feedback.
Congrats. Playback mag has a review out on procs/pres you might want to look at. The item I found included in that article was the audio strengths of these units, which I've found are evident to some degree in my own Onkyo 805 receiver. I think the Integra is likely better, albeit marginally beyond the 805, and should have been included in that monologue too.

RE Deadly?
Only if you allow it to be.