Preamp modifications - who would you use?


I am looking for a company or individual who performs equipment modifications to take a look at a preamp I own and recommend (and implement) parts improvements and or modifications to squeeze out the last bit of sonic performance. I would like to talk with someone who is well regarded not only for the quality of their work but also for their customer service, and who has enough experience and expertise to assess each piece on an individual basis, and not simply apply the same bag of tricks to everything they touch. Based on things I have read, folks that come to mind are Kyle Takenaga at RAM, Bill Thalman at Music Technology, and Chris Johnson at Partsconnexion. I would be interested in other recommendations. Thanks.
mitch2
I recommend adding "RHB Sound Dezign" to your list.
Check out Steve Huntley at Great Northern Sound Company: http://greatnorthernsound.com/index.html
I believe Jeff at Sonicraft does some nice mods too.
Phaelon is right on. I can't imagine better results than can be obtained by Bob Backert of RHB Dezigns. Bob will analyze the circuit design and implementation and recommend what he can do and how each improvement will effect the sound of the gear. Bob tests with equipment and ears all along the way.

Bob is professional and the consummate gentleman. He and his son do great work! You will not be disappointed.

If you check around on the net I am confident you will find nothing but rave reviews of RHB.
If you're asking about the Lamm LL2 Deluxe listed in your system description, I'd leave it alone. It's a classic preamp, and modifying it will alter its wonderful sound and destroy its resale value.
Check with Joseph Chow at Audio Horizons. He designed and developed one of the most highly regarded preamps around. He has a separate upgrade (mod) business unit, and will make a recommendation once he's assessed your gear. I have been very happy with his work ... great customer service and he'll give you very reasonable rates.
Thanks everyone, you have come up with some names that I didn't know about. Any more I should consider?
I can't recommend anyone, but ask them what type/brand of caps they like for it, and what sonic changes to expect from those caps, or other parts/mods being done. Ask any possible downsides if any apply.
I recently had Kyle Takenaga modify my preamp/processor. You can read my A'gon review here. I've been very pleased with the improvements, which include increased resolution along with a greater sense of relaxation.

I would like to talk with someone who is well regarded not only for the quality of their work but also for their customer service...

Kyle was very responsive both in emails and phone calls. And he was not the least bit secretive about his methods or parts, which was an important consideration for me.

...and who has enough experience and expertise to assess each piece on an individual basis, and not simply apply the same bag of tricks to everything they touch.

I can't comment on this, as I only had Kyle modify a single piece of equipment. A conversation with him about your preamp might answer this question for you.

Sounds like there are other good options as well. Good luck.

Bryon
I should have read all the posts first. My post was already covered.
If you have a McCormack preamp then I would recommend SMc Audio. Kris Jeter and Steve McCormack are gentlemen that believe in great customer service and their mods to McCormack gear are high quality and praised by a lot of audiohiles for wonderful sound.
I've met Kyle, he seems like a nice guy.

But, knowing the man well and hearing his work through various people I know, I can wholeheartedly recommend Bob Backert of RHB Sound Designs, in the Philadelphia, PA area.
Vinyl Renaissance

10922 Shawnee Mission Pkwy

Shawnee, KS 66203

913.9620014
I think these guys are great and very fast. My prime choice for upgrades and/or repairs.

Chris Johnson has done some great work but shipping to CA is a pain in the butt and expensive.
John Tucker at Exemplar Audio is very well respected. He is quite busy and may take WAY too long.
Mitch Singerman at Head Fi is another quality choice but again quite busy.
David Gill of Gill Audio Design. He certainly seems to have the approach you are looking for with his own products as well as Art Audio.
Bryon,

Thanks for the review. The room correction and crossover features in some of the better pre-pros has me thinking about using one of them in a 2 channel set-up, but I have the concerns that you mention. I was wondering whether any of the good mods guys handle pre-pros and thank you - and the other respondents here - for covering the subject.

Regards,

Marty
Agree with Tvad 100%.
Actually, I also agree with Grant. Didn't know the component that was under discussion - my fault. There are a certain level of components that should be left as they were designed and implemented.
01-23-11: Trelja
Actually, I also agree with Grant. Didn't know the component that was under discussion -
I don't know that is is, I just saw it listed in the OP's system. He hasn't verified if the Lamm LL2 Deluxe is the preamp under consideration for mods.
Hi guys,
Sorry for the inactivity. For some reason a response I wrote last night didn't post. Again, thanks for the great suggestions.

Tvad, no I am not modding the Lamm. I have actually sold it and moved on in a different direction - I do need to upgrade my system page but my gear has been changing a bit. BTW - I have conversed with another Lamm owner who has performed significant mods to his LL2 (caps, attenuators, diodes) and he says it is now comparable with anything out there.

The preamp I am considering to be modded is a MUSE Model Three Signature with outboard display and power supply. I now have the MUSE Erato II player as my source and by using the Model Three Signature I have a single remote to interface with my entire system - very convenient. The Model Three Signature actually sounds quite good for an older model $3,500 preamp and, to me, it is largely comparable sonically with most other higher priced preamps I have owned. It has a wealth of features that make it desirable for me to use so I would like to see if it can be improved sonically, even a little.

I don't want to make any fundamental changes but to mainly improve on the basic implementation, perhaps with better parts or other changes that could be recommended. It is based on dual Burr Brown chip volume controls, as used in the $10k Esoteric C03, so maybe it was a bit ahead of its time. The designer, Kevin Halverson, has told me he has heard other preamps that may equal the Three Signature, but in his opinion, none that are better. He may be a little biased, but it sounds good enough to me also.
01-23-11: Mitch2
Tvad, no I am not modding the Lamm.
Thanks for the update.

BTW - I have conversed with another Lamm owner who has performed significant mods to his LL2 (caps, attenuators, diodes) and he says it is now comparable with anything out there.
Regardless of his opinion of his modification, I think my initial comment still applies. I'll bet it sounds different than a stock LL2 Deluxe, and there's no question that most buyers looking for a used LL2 Deluxe are going to want a stock version versus a one-off modded unit that may or may not (and most likely not) sound like the LL2 Deluxe preamps that received all the rave reviews.

Modding can result in definite changes in the sound of components, and often those that do the mods or that pay to have the mods done swear that the sound is better, and perhaps in many respects it is...but there's no question that having a unit modified significantly lowers its resale value because of the much smaller pool of audiophiles who will consider buying it.

Sorry for the firm cautionary warning, but anyone considering mods should be aware of the pitfalls as well as the positives before pulling the trigger.
Well...when it came down to it the potential pitfalls you mention definitely weighed in as a factor in choosing not to mod my LL2.

However, the modded LL2 I described had the best quality upgrade parts such as Dueland coupling caps, Eurocap bypass caps, DACT attenuators, RAM diode bridges, and Jensen electrolytics. The owner did not change the design and he did the work himself - a first rate job based on the pictures I saw. Unfortunately, I am not located in the same area and have not heard it. As you point out, modding includes risks - and the LL2 does sound great in its stock form. However, I would definitely buy that modded unit if it were ever posted for sale.
Unfortunately, I am not located in the same area and have not heard it...However, I would definitely buy that modded unit if it were ever posted for sale.
Mitch2 (System | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Interesting that you'd buy it without having heard it. That's not something I would consider.

Different strokes, I suppose.

Good luck on the modification quest.
Mitch2, Unlike with cars, swapping out parts in audio components, even for superior parts, does not guarantee improved performance. One reason is that, even when you choose parts rated same value, they don’t operate identically to the part they replaced. This can have a cascade effect on the parts around them. Other parts might not now be operating optimally. It’s a lot like taking medication. There can be unintended side effects.

Modifiers, like Dan Wright, who choose a component, study it and spend a good long time tinkering and testing, are a whole different story. Unless you choose a modifier who specializes in modifying your particular preamp, you’re unlikely to get that kind of analysis and testing.
Since the previous poster mentioned Dan Wright, I'd like to weigh in again with the whole idea of modifying equipment. The OP asked about preamps. That is one of Joseph Chows specialties. I have a Dan Wright modified player as front end. Does it sound better than stock? To me a resounding 'yes'. Is it superior to the Sony 5400ES it replaced? Again, that's affirmative. How about in comparison to the Sony TRL modified by Paul Weitzel? The TRL player sounded better, and I wished I hadn't sold it.

So the notion that an audiophile is going to feel something sounds better just because they paid to have something modded is just not true ... at least not in my case. Also the idea that something - no matter what it is - cannot be improved from stock flies in the face of innovation. Better parts, new technology, and improved design approaches can sometimes take a base model to levels the original designer never even dreamed about.

It is generally true that one will not reap anywhere near the value of what they paid for the combined cost of the gear plus the mod - on re-sale of a modified unit. So if one elects to go that route, be prepared to eat the cost of the mod. But if you don't mind that, and you're looking to for the best sound, I say go for it!

Not trying to start a p---ing contest, but that's my 2 cents.
01-23-11: Strateahed
..the notion that an audiophile is going to feel something sounds better just because they paid to have something modded is just not true ... at least not in my case.
That wasn't exactly my point, but it's my fault for not expressing it more clearly.

The point I was attempting to make was that different is not necessarily better, IMO...particularly in the case of the Lamm LL2 Deluxe, which has such a large library of positive reviews because of its sound. Changing the parts in a Lamm LL2 Deluxe may make it sound different, and it may also make individual aspects of its sonic characteristics better, but if the preamp's house sound has been appreciably altered in the process, then the result as a whole may not be better. After all, its the preamp's house sound that has resulted in the many positive reviews.

It's a big "if", and you don't know what the end result is going to be until it's done. To me, messing with a good thing is risky. That's all I'm saying.

I believe mods are an excellent way to improve upon a component that is clearly lacking in some way. Modwright's mods of various Sony DVD/SACD players (particularly those prior to the 5400ES) is a prime example.
I believe mods are an excellent way to improve upon a component that is clearly lacking in some way.
Tvad, I agree with your observations regarding the risk of screwing up something that a good designer spent a considerable amount of time to design and spec. The Lamm may therefore be a poor example to use for this case. However, there are other examples where equipment was designed to a price point limiting the cost of components, where the equipment is older and the available parts quality has improved since the original design, and where newer technology has become available (such as in power filtration and regulation). Those types of examples may be more applicable here. I plan to start with a couple of the names on the list, send some pictures of the insides of the preamp and power supply, talk with them about what they believe can may be accomplished, and then decide how/if I want to proceed.

I appreciate the names provided here, several of which I did not initially consider, and I also found benefit in the general discussion regarding the risks of modding equipment.
"01-13-10: Ejmac70
During the modified period, there was greater top-end sparkle; however, the unit also lost all of the musical characteristics for which one selects a Jadis product! To be clear, I do not recommend this option.”

I extracted the above from another thread because it exemplifies what I believe to be one of the greatest caution points of modifications: The achievement of a specific desired virtue at the expense of the subtle voicing of a component. I can almost assure you that some of the changes made involved upgrading parts.
I too believe Tvad is giving very good advice to consider. There is also the question of what happens should you ever need to send the unit back to the original manufacturer for any repair or work. What happens then to the modded parts and work?

Good luck,
Will
Consider Wayne of Bolder Cable Co. I've got him working on a DAC for me now and from my experience with other pieces he's modified he does great work.
Modifiers, like Dan Wright, who choose a component, study it and spend a good long time tinkering and testing, are a whole different story. Unless you choose a modifier who specializes in modifying your particular preamp, you’re unlikely to get that kind of analysis and testing.
That is a very good point Phaelon. In retrospect, it seems the most successful modifiers are either those like Dan Wright, Kyle Takenaga, and Steve Huntley, who spend considerable time developing their modifications and generally specialize in specific equipment, or the many others who modify/upgrade equipment they originally designed such as Steve McCormack, Jim White, Chris Johnson, Charles Hansen, and many others, including Kevin Halverson who has been outstanding in his support of existing customers upgrading to his latest models of digital equipment.

I have consulted with one of the individuals recommended above, who is looking at some detailed pictures of the preamp. Our understanding is that if something jumps out at him that he believes can be improved, we will discuss further. However, if that is not the case, I may just leave well enough alone (easy to say, hard to do after years of being a typical audiophle). I have been at this long enough to know that just because something is not as expensive as other products does not mean it cannot, or does not, sound as good. I also find it interesting that, as with other SS equipment such as the Tom Evans Vibe/Pulse I use to own, leaving the preamp on continuously for over a month now has had a positive effect on the sonics with perceptually greater extension, texture, and depth of stage.
I second "RHB Sound Dezign". Bob Modified a CJ pv8 for me and it sounds amazing. Bill Thallman upgraded an MV75A1 for me but did not actually modify it. He does amazing work also.
Thanks Augiem. Although RHB specializes in tubed designs, they also work on solid state equipment. Bob and I had a nice conversation and he is taking a look at the preamp for me.
You’re a lucky man Mitch. I’m sure that you entered into the modification process hoping to gather as much relevant information as possible. IMO, this thread is a great example of Audiogon working. I can’t think of an angle that hasn’t been covered. Congratulations.

FWIW, I too have spoken with Bob and he would be my choice for your particular application.
I'm curious how your amp mod went?
I have used RHB Sound Dezign as well. Bob was very nice. They modded my CJ PV-12. In stock form, the sound stage was flat like wallpaper. It is now a formidable beast. It has real depth, as well as bass slam and rhythm that are incredible.

I recommend them to anybody - www.rhbsound.com
Bob reviewed some detailed pictures I sent over and we discussed potential outcomes but in the end I decided not to modify the MUSE and I sold it. My MUSE Erato II player
actually has an internal Model Three Signature active preamp module that can be engaged by connecting the player's variable outputs directly to the amps. However, I typically run it from the fixed outputs (which bypass the active module) to an outboard preamp.

I ended up using my Tom Evans preamp for over a year and then sending a TLC-1 to Steve McCormack at SMc Audio for his Ultimate Plus level mods. This basically ended up being a custom preamp crafted for my listening and connection preferences. Even the faceplate is custom and it looks great. I have only had it back for a short time and I am not prepared to make detailed comments or write a review but my initial impressions are very positive, placing it among the best preamps I have owned. I will post more about it later.