Recommendations for 5k upgrade

As winter approaches more time is spent listening so I have allocated this budget for system changes and/or improvement. Planned changes are marked between brackets.

PC based music server / SB Touch (ext. power supply upgrade, maybe Bolder?) fed into Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC with Dexa opamps. Alternative source: Sony DVP 9000ES CD/SACD via optical.

Conrad Johnson CT-5 with 6H30DR tubes, CJ LP140 mono blocks (tube rolling planned, which 6922?)

Dunlavy SC-IV modded, Velodyne DD-12 or REL R305 (haven't decided which one to keep)

Power Conditioning:
Audience AdeptResponse 12 with e PowerChord (AU24e PC planned, dedicated 20A lines planned with the next room renovation)

IC: NordOst Valkyrja throughout (maybe Valhalla, looking for alternatives with better price/performance), NordOst Silver Shadow for S/PDIF
SC: NordOst Heimdall (probably the weakest link here, upgrade to Tyr2 ? Alternatives?)
PC: NordOst Vishnu to preamp and power amps, stock PCs on other devices (waiting for the final direction for PCs, not sure to stick to the loom theory, having all PCs of the same brand)

Isolation: mostly Black Diamond Racing cones/pucks and one BDR shelf under the preamp, some Stillpoints (planning to experiment with alternatives like Aurio, Symposium, etc, under the devices, maybe some for under the speakers)

Room treatment: just acoustic panels behind the speakers, need high WAF suggestions for my 21' x 30' room which has a half sloping cathedral ceiling and an open staircase. (looking for bass traps that can blend in with the interior for the corners)

I am not unhappy with the current setup but like to have more details without being too lean/bright.

What is my weakest link?

Of course YMMV but appreciate any suggestion to take this system to the next level without a second mortgage (or divorce) and/or improve the synergy between components. TIA!
You might consider a DEQX unit, which offers speaker correction (frequency, group delay, phase), room correction, and sub integration with electronic crossovers of a wide variety. Mine has been my favorite upgrade in many years; a friend purchased and is happy with one after hearing mine; and another audiogoner purchased and is very happy with an Express unit I sold him when I upgraded to the HDP3.

One warning: the units are very flexible and the nomenclature and software layout can be quite confusing at first: there is a steep learning curve. Once you read through the install manual and run through a few trial runs, though, it becomes fairly easy.

I've noticed a few for sale recently, which may be because they didn't fit well in a some peoples's systems. I was not impressed with my first couple of run throughs, before I took time and effort to get the full benefit of the DEQX, so I suppose that may be a case for others as well.
Nice looking at it, the CJ and the Dunlavy are very, very good. If it is detail you seek, i can only think of Valhalla s/hand or perhaps focusing on your source...not necessarily DAC but could be...i also wonder about PC and Sony transport.

Some suggestions:
- IC/SC: Sablon Audio ICs, 2nd hand Valhalla
- Digital: 2nd hand Accustic Arts, ARC CD7 ($4K) or ARC CD8 (available on AGon for just over your current budget)

If you are looking for detail, decay, nuance but maintain what i suspect your DAC sound is like...i think these might do it for class stuff.
I suspect, given the quality of your gear, that the DAC and transport are the weakest links. You can get a used PSAudio MKII Perfect Wave DAC and Perfect Wave transport within your budget price. It's a very musical set up and was just reviewed in The Absolute Sound. I run mine through a CT5 and the sound is smooth but full of detail. Wish my speakers were compatible with those 140's!
Your system good as it is. The weakest component, for me, would be your sources. I have the same Sony you have. Its OK as a back up or to just try SACD but your other components are in another league. As far as your PC setup goes, I can't comment because the sound varies so much from system to system, I could only guess as to how good it sounds. My recommendation. Get a real CD player. That will be a huge improvement. If you need other formats besides Redbook, two players I would look at are the Ayre 5 series universal and the Cary 306 CD/SACD players. They both sound incredible. The reason I choose these 2 are for Redbook. With most multi-format players, CD quality is sacrificed. Not so with these two. They can easily hold their own against Redbook only players in the same price range. And since most people have a lot more CD's than other formats, it just makes sense to have a really good CD player. (CD needs all the help it can get).

I see that you are considering things like tube rolling and new cables. I won't tell you not to do that. Its your choice. I just don't think they will come anywhere near the improvements that a new source will bring.
I would definately upgrade your PC's. Sell off the Vishnu's and replace your stock cords. Lots to choose from but do check out some other products. Search Triode Wire Labs here and elsewhere for information/reviews. I'm a big fan. Pete offers money back on 30 day in home auditions.
I agree with Lloydelee21, I think your source is your weak link. He gives some very good suggestions for good sources with detail. Maybe even a Bel Canto DAC or something in the couple thousand dollar range would be good.

I would address the source before messing with cables and such.

Earlier this year I had the Nordost Series 2 Norse demo case less the Heimdall's. The Series 2 have much more 'weight' in the bottom end. My ic's were the original Frey and sc were also the original Frey. I couldn't (and still can't) afford 4m Tyr2 sc so I went with the Try2 ic. With the original Frey sc and the Tyr2 ic sounded very very close to the Frey2 sc and original Frey ic. The Tyr2 sc is in it's own class. If you have a local Nordost dealer see if they have a demo case for the Norse Series 2 that you could borrow.

Just my opinion regarding the new series 2.
For PC consider the Cabledyne coppers. I replaced my entire HT with these and they are very good not only for audio but video. For $140-$200 they are the real deal. I plan to write a review soon.
If you like what you have, but want to refine it, I suggest upgrading to the Audience 12T with the Teflon caps. The regular 12 is a great piece, but the T upgrade is really significant. Then again, your DAC is good, but I would consider a better DAC before spending significant money on accessories. In the 5K range, you could check out the EAR DAC or even the new Acute, which will give you a transport for CDs. The Acute is VERY good. I've also heard very good things about the Berkley Dac, but haven't heard it myself.
Thanks all for the great suggestions and nice comments!

Source: Since I am focusing on playing FLAC files (still have to restrain myself from getting a TT -not talking about an Audi- as I know the total cost will soon exceed the cost of a new sub/compact car), and rather using the SACD/CD player occasionally (therefore I don't see the need for urgent upgrade; except maybe to a bit higher level like the Sony 777ES series).
I will look certainly into a better DAC and digital cable.

ICs: just bought the first pair of Valhalla ICs so will soon experience the difference.

SC: thanks for the confirmation of the Tyr2 that I was trending to. Glad to hear that this is not my weakest link.

PCs (your advise needed): In a forum they mentioned that Lars, the NordOst rep, demoed a system with (just) one Valhalla PC between the wall and conditioner, the rest of the system just had their entry level PCs. Lars stated that this setup is better than, say, all Brahmas throughout the system. The audience (no pun intended) concurred after the demo. If one follows this strategy, I would upgrade the AdeptResponse PC to AU24e first (it is what I put in my plan).
I would appreciate if anyone can confirm this strategy/philosophy in getting the very best PC upstream and leave the rest on entry level (or maybe stock cords?) to achieve the best price/performance. (I really wish not to need to end up with Valhalla -or equally priced, even used- PCs- for every device in the system.

Also, I will keep looking for the review on game changers in this area. Just looked very briefly at Cabledyne's website, the PCs looks decent.

Pconditioning: Even though I had great experience passing from a NordOst Thor to AdeptResponse 12, I will not likely upgrade to the newer T series before the source and speaker and power cables are upgraded. Rationale: if I shell out another 10k (or 5k for the upgrade) from the 12 to 12T, I might as well contemplate replacing the big Dunlavy SC-IVs to something at least good sounding but more appealing to look at.

As mentioned before, I will upgrade to at least one dedicated 20A line and ask the electrician to put more than enough earth poles to ensure I have the best ground possible, which I believe will eliminate potential ground issues.
I think you have a very nice, well thought out system and it's because of that I find your quest for more "detail" puzzling. Based upon my experience and what I've read of your components none of them would be described as highly detailed in their musical presentation. IMO trying to change a system's presentation with cabling is fundamentally wrong. It's also a poor value solution. I'm not saying that it can't work, but even if it does it will impede any further improvements in the future.

Before making any changes I would recommend you experiment with speaker placement and acoustic treatments. I believe that in a large room getting the bass right (which probably will sound a little light weight, at least initially) is essential to maximizing resolution and detail higher up the frequency spectrum.
I don't think that cabling is your primary priority. I mention the PC's because they DO make a BIG difference and can be upgraded relatively inexpensively. Improvements are not subtle.
Onhwy61, sorry if my quest misled you. In general, I wanted to take this already great sounding system to the next level -which is what I put on the last lines- w/o breaking the piggy bank. E.g. when I had, IMO, a good system a while back with the CJ PV12, MF2500 and Snell B Minors, I thought this ensemble is darn good...till I upgraded the components.

Placing speakers is a very well discussed and known fact (believe me I did that first) and acoustic treatment, or my specific limitation, has been mentioned already in my OP.
Polygot, I can see why you prefer your new system to the old one, but do you really think getting to the "next level" will be any easier or less expensive than the last major upgrade? The law of diminishing returns starts kicking in quite severely at about the point you're at. Your stated budget will allow for some refinement of what you already have, but I don't think it will truly take you to the next level. Of course, you could prove me wrong.
To prospective sellers: please refrain from contacting me directly to sell me (your) goods, as some of you have tried, it will only raise my alertness and consequently my discontent. I am considering those messages to Audiogon, maybe they will land in a new "Hall of Shame".

To all the others, please keep your suggestions coming, thanks!

As I'm sure you've noticed, the harder the "sell," the more dubious the product. Hope you have a chance to audition a higher end digital source. Please report back if you do.
Yes, I would agree that the source is where I would direct my attention first.

One A'goner recommended the DEQX. Another option would be the DSPeaker Dual Core 2.0. Got a Golden Ear award in TAS, and Kal Rubinson also thought highly of it in Stereophile. The DSP improvement of your bass could lessen some of your need for room treatment (if they turn out to not pass the WAF test). You also get balance control, an EQ, time delay and a number of other features that let you fine tune your sound. These are available at online outlets with solid return policies like Tweek Geek if there is not a dealer in your area. It has been fabulous in my system, and I am using both with digital and analog (!) inputs. Did not expect it to be as transparent as it is with my turntable's analog input.

As for power conditioning, I find this to be very system dependent as well dependent on the specific power problems you may have. Very important to audition in your own system here (and try any conditioner with amps plugged into it, vs into the wall to see if there are any dynamics being restricted). My apt's power is poor enough that I needed a conditioner I could plug my amps into (so I could sleep well at night). The Running Springs Haley and the Equitech 2Q are the two best power conditioners that I have had in my system. But in all things power conditioning, YMMV.
Since you are using the EE Minimax DAC which I reviewed I can give some guidance in regards to that unit and potential upgrade.

If you like the nature of the EE DAC's performance in general then please read my Audio Blast article Discrete Opamp Rolling the EE Minimax DAC Plus at (Note this is the DAC Plus version; the move to the Plus version holistically imroves definition/detail as well as all other areas of performance). If you are interested by the discussion of using a mixture of discrete Opamps to tune systems, then feel free to contact me to discuss.

Regarding other aspects of your rig, I would avoid Toslink/optical cables. Typically superior sound will be obtained by use of digital coaxial S/PDIF cables. The quality of digital cable and transport will vastly influence the sound quality of Redbook playback.

Change out the stock PCs asap. Even an economical upgrade to the PCs will reward handsomely.
Thanks for the continued comments and suggestions which I have taken to heart.

Here is my action plan:

IC: (after rereading the many comments on the Gon) upgraded to Valhallas and got what I expected: much more detail, better imaging...a sizeable step up from the Valkyrja so certainly no buyers remorse here. I have come to respect NordOst even more but will keep an eye on more affordable solutions for speaker and power cables.

SC: n/c, may try the Tyr2 or Audience AU24e.

PC: replaced the NordOst Vishnus with Audience PowerChords: a blacker background, more solid imaging, will order the AU24e PC for the prime link as planned.

Cary 306 or 303 SACD/CD player targeted, will also audition an used Sonic Frontiers SFT-1 as transport.
(your comments needed here to help me decide between those three).
Actually I only need a better transport as my main source is the HTPC.

DAC: my rationale is that technology changes so fast in this area that does not warrant the purchase of a 3k+ DAC (I learnt my lessons seeing the depreciation of the high end receivers I bought a decade ago and selling then at 10cents on the dollar).
My current EE MiniMax DAC Plus with the DEXA opamps sounded more realistic and a bit smoother than the Wyred4Sound DAC2 and PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC MkI that I A/B'ed. I will audition the PWD MkII, just to have a piece of mind. Douglas: a big thank you! I read your write up on Dagogo a long time ago which prompted me to seek out this DAC. Question to you: would you recommend upgrading the output caps?

Thanks for reminding me of digital room correction, I plan to test the DEQX someday as I need to stick with the very limited acoustic treatment options (WAF!).

Thanks guys to help me spend 5k+ that quickly :-)
The DSPeaker Dual Core I mentioned earlier would be a more inexpensive way to get some digital room correction than DEQX. And you have a 30 day return policy at some retailers. (I'd also be curious how it compares to the EE DAC, it could be used with that DAC via its digital output, or it could replace that DAC).
I've owned a DSPeaker unit, and as Roscoeiii notes it is an inexpensive, and for many effective way to help tame bass problems below the Schroeder frequency in your room (approx. 200 hz in many rooms). The DEQX unit is functionally quite different from, and addresses several more issues than, the DSPeaker. Many users feel that the simulated anechoic speaker correction, correction of group delay, and linear phase electronic crossovers, for example, are as, or more important than the room correction of frequency response.

(side note: both the DEQX and DSPeaker units allow room correction at higher frequencies, but it seems room correction above say 200hz is not recommended by most experts)
Polyglot, thanks; I'm glad the article helped.

I can't speak personally to the efficacy of upgrading the output caps, but I do believe that it likely would benefit the unit. There are others far more knoweldgeable than me in that regard and if that is your determination I defer to their expertise.

OTOH, I don't know what it would set you back cost-wise to do that upgrade if someone else did the work. I believe that you would achieve a larger return sonically to simply move to the DAC Plus version, as there are significant design improvements such as the elimination of the volume control, and separate transformers for the SS/Tube output. The difference/improvement is not subtle at all, and the benefit of rolling discrete Opamps is only amplified (pun!).
Douglas, mea culpa, I have the EE MiniMax Plus all along, I had both the standard version and the newer version, preferring the improved sound of the latter.

I have now upgraded all existing PC to Audience powerChords and am pretty happy about that upgrade. Also added a HiFi Tuning fuse for the preamp, considering to do the same for the tube power amps.

Will decide on the CD or transport upgrade this week. The Cary 306 could maybe serve as main DAC so the whole setup looks simpler.

I've not heard the Cary 306 but I've heard from others that it is excellent and quite elegant. With regard to the PWD MKII, if you do get a chance to audition it, make sure that you have all inputs adjusted to the NativeX setting and to use the automatic filter setting. Additionally, while all inputs sound excellent, I believe that the Coax and XLR connections are significantly better than the I2S if you use high quality coax...Nordost would be perfect for it. If you can audition MKII with the mated PW Transport, then I believe it will give the Cary a fair fight. ;-)

In any case, I'm glad you liked the new fuses. I think they're a pretty good tweak for the money.

Sounds like you're making some good, strategic choices and it's paying off.
Polyglot, alright! Sweet, you have the advanced version; you're doing great.

I urge you to get the set of Burson discrete Opamps as well, as this will give you ongoing complete flexibility in system building. Also, change from optic to dig coax cable for the transport and you will have another sizable improvement. You can "roll cables" and try several of them, as they are not nearly as expensive as speaker cables, and there is a wide variance in performance between different brands.

I would not necessarily assume the Cary will be superior performance-wise to its use as a transport to the EE DAC. I'm guessing the enhanced EE DAC will be better holistically than the Cary alone. The power cord and digital cable will have great sway in the final result; try it both ways. I've never let appearance stand in the way of superior performance, i.e. one box vs. two, etc. Do not assume that necessarily a single box solution to CD will automatically outperform a transport with EE DAC.

I would first get a good dig coax cable between the Sony unit and EE DAC to see if that represents a pleasing improvement for you. With the discrete Opamps from Burson and DEXA you should be able to tune this to perfection.
There is a lot of upgrade path available for you to travel no matter what decisions you pursue. :)

The improved power cords will also add considerably to the overall quality of the rig. If you take the following steps which will not cost much relatively, you should have respectable gains and may feel content to hold at that level for a while:

-PCs upgraded
-Have both Burson and DEXA complete sets of discrete Opamps available for rolling/tuning
-coaxial digital link between cd/transport and DAC

Regardless of whether you choose to do the additional discrete Opamps, the PC and digital cable upgrades should be done even if you seek a different player.
Douglas, I am already using the NordOst Silver Shadow from the EE Plus as indicated in my OP. Which brand/model would you suggest as an upgrade (Valhalla or the Transparent Reference are, budget wise, not an option for now).

As I am pleased with the Audience power conditioner and PCs, I was wondering if the digital AU24e would be a good improvement over the Silver Shadow.
Ah, missed that; very well.

One brand of cables which strike my ear as having a very pleasing balance of tonality and definition are Clarity Cables (reviewed at They are not the only game going for good cables, but a very good sounding wire for the money.

I would watch the conductor material of the digital cable; it appears the Silver Shadow uses a silver over copper and if so then likely the sound will be thinner than if you seek an all copper conductor. This will not be the case in every instance, but in most instances I have tested it follows suit.

It's unorthodox, but if you have one or two different Interconnects lying around, try one of them. You may be very surprised by the result. In many systems I have used an interconnect with a slightly more pleasing result than a digital cable of the same brand. If you are after higher definition often it can be achieved through use of an interconnect acting as a digital link. Rolling discrete Opamps along with changes to digital cables combine for a powerful system tuning set of tools.

The DAC Plus accepts AES/EBU input and whatever transport/player you have it would be an advantage to use it in most cases. Usually the best transport/DAC combinations have been through use of an all Copper XLR cable via the AES/EBU connection. It is not an absolute guarantee of the best results but often turns out to be. The sonic characteristics of silver OFC versus all copper digital cables holds regardless of whether AES/EBU or S/PDIF is used. :)

Following your comments and great advice I have upgraded

1.) Transport: to a Cary 306, more detailed, very sweet sound, I am having problem with the upsampler (which may be defective, have emailed Cary). A big step up indeed, thanks to all but esp. Zd542 for speaking very clear words.

2.) All power cables to Audience power Chord, conforming to the loom theory and based on my great experience with the Audience AdeptResponse 12T (this is just my experience as I don't want to again to start a war of words on cabling): blacker background, on the CDP and preamp I feel that the NordOst is faster and sounded better on violins in some recordings, need more time to hear the differences.

3.) all ICs from NordOst Valkyrja to Valhalla (my biggest expenditure) and not what I hoped for which is a minor upgrade so that I can sell those expensive cables: it was the biggest improvement of all: much more details, so fast, so dynamic! Very tempted to test a Valhalla power cord but all budget is gone.

4.) Fuses (thanks Vhiner for mentioning about it here) to HiFi Tuning and in the near future AMR gold so none of the devices will have standard fuse(s)anymore: this is the best bang for the buck, very recommended for all to experiment! (Again, I do not intend to start a discussion on this topic, it is just my personal experience that I wish to share).

5.) Isolation from Stillpoints and Black Diamond Racing under the source components to Symposium Jr Rollerblocks with Tungsten balls: worthwhile improvement, more solid sound staging.

Up next:
- now very much needed upgrade of the digital cable so suggestions are more than welcome here.

- will do some tube rolling and some tube proponents suggest, it is about getting a variant on the sound without buying another component and as Douglas noted, rolling opamps do the same.

As you may have noticed, I have stalled, for now, the DAC upgrade mostly due to budget constraints but more so because it has held very well against others in the past. One, less likely, alternative route is buy the new PS Audio PWD MKII and downgrade the ICs from Valhalla back to Valkyrja to stay in the extended budget but I am afraid that the overall result would be worse than the current setup.

Wow! You've been busy and it sounds like you've made excellent choices. I also subscribe to the loom theory. Too bad you can't afford Nordost's flagship digital cable. I use Shunyata's Zitron Python digital and suspect the Lessloss may be similar based upon reports from others. If it is, it's an outstanding cable.
I will, as mentioned, I am looking for used digitial cables up to $800. In fact, I have a Valhalla digital loaner, see which one comes close to it. Which other digital cable did you compare before settling on the Zitron Python? In my HT I have Shunyata power cords but am not, certainly after the recent splurge, contemplating about completing the all cables Shunyata loom there.

Back to the main 2 channel setup, just replaced the Heimdall speaker cable with Audience AU24e: less grain, better presentation, more harmonic depth. Will wait till I have settled on the power cords before deciding which SC is to stay, too many variables now but the system is trending towards Audience, taking ground from NordOst. It all started after the arrival of the AudienceResponse.

I used the Harmonic Tech Platinum digital, Kimberly Illuminati and a 2011 version of Moray James' digital cable. The Moray James cable (designed in Canada) is my back up...coming in a close second to the Shunyata. I'd certainly never suggest you change your loom, but I think digital cables are a unique animal and it's certainly worth experimenting as you are.
Don't worry Polyglos I've tried Lessloss cables and found them to be nothing special as well as many others that have reported the same!