Remarkably better sound possible with just 1 system component change?


I could have posted this discussion to a few other categories but chose this one because discussions related to 2 of the 4 components in question belong here.

So it's been ~2.5 yrs since I purchased my current system. I did a lot of research at the time here on audiogon, but no auditioning, and put together a system that sounds very, very good to me.

While I have no complaints, the itch to upgrade has surfaced recently.

I am curious as to whether you guys think it will be possible for me to replace just 1 of my primary 4 components and obtain significantly better sound as a result. The more discernible and obvious the sound improvement, the better obviously. I am not looking for a marginal upgrade - I want dramatically better sound. And I am not looking to replace more than 1 component at this time. I am hoping to get a few ideas/candidates and then may decide to audition some of the recommendations before making a decision. Hopefully some of the upgrade paths are such no-brainers that I may even be able to take a leap of faith without auditioning. Note also that acoustic room treatments are not viable in my current listening location.
 
My current 4 part system:

1. Lumin D2 - 100% of my listening is streaming via Tidal
2. Mcintosh C2600 preamp
3. Mcintosh MC452 amp
4. Focal Kanta 2 speakers

Cables are Cardas Golden presence RCAs from the Lumin to C2600, Cardas Clear Cygnus XLRs from the C2600 to the MC452, and Kimber 8TC speaker cables to the Kantas.

Soundstaging, dynamics, imaging and overall clarity are all great. I have to say I love the Be tweeters. And the bass is punchy, tight, fast and certainly sufficient for my needs. Vocals and overall sound are warm, liquid smooth and analog-like, just the way I like it. (Forgive me if I've botched some of the characterizations - I'm no expert at this). The only thing I can think of that could use some improvement is the sound quality at lower volume levels, although that is not terribly important to me since most of my listening is in the 90+ Db range. Would be nice, though.

So while I do love the overall sound, surely dramatically better sound can be obtained via a 1 component swap? Budget is ~10k. Or will I need to spend more, or upgrade more than 1 component to achieve the desired result?

Thanks in advance for your time and thoughts.

chandybe
I would move up to the Kanta 3. Speaker upgrades can make a big difference.  You already have excellent electronics, and changing cables will not be any kind of huge impact. Hence, the more expensive speakers would be your best bet. 
What is your listening environment like? I know you said that treatments aren't feasible, what about arrangement? 
Yeah, it's most likely speakers but maybe the source as well, I don't know, I don't stream. You didn't mention power cords and power conditioner, if you use one. Improving current can give big improvement but probably not huge, it depends.
Stereo5 - I believe the main difference between the Kanta 3s and 2s is that the former have larger woofers. More/better bass isn't something I'm looking for..

Inna - I don't use special power cords or a power conditioner. I'd rather upgrade a component to be honest. I am open to going that route, albeit I can't help but be a tad skeptical that this would yield the major improvement I'm looking for..

CM - my listening location isn't really modifiable in terms of acoustics treatments or config. I've included a pic - I am sure some folks here may detect all sorts of audiophile transgressions and even deem some/all of them to be limiting in nature and possibly even the singular constraint that precludes my objective, but if so, that would be unfortunate..

http://imgur.com/a/JnmMStG

Is there really nothing else you can think of to spend 10k on?  Personally I’d get 2k in camping gear, some really nice earbuds, and start planning trips for life after you get vaccinated.  Have you ever heard your favorite music while staring into the abyss on starry night in Sedona?  It will sound remarkably better.  
Quad ESL 57. And a 4th TV on the ceiling.
Dramatic improvement from just one component? Sure.

Schumann generators. For a tiny fraction of the cost of one component you can get half a dozen, total cost about $100, and you will be floored.

Or put your speakers on Townshend Podiums. Cost more, even more dramatic.

Honestly if your "system" is as incomplete as you say, and you really do have 10k to put into it, then you could do speaker Podiums, everything else Pods, ten Schumann generators, a DBA ($3k) and be absolutely flabbergasted at the improvement.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled buy another same old same old.

Perkadin- ty ty ty ! I never realized, until now, that my quest is futile, folly, inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and life, an utter waste of $$$ and of course, monetarily and otherwise mutually exclusive with endeavors such as staring into the abyss in Sedona while listening to great headphones. I just booked a trip to Sedona and made arrangements for an acoustically treated outdoor enclosure with a glass roof - I am also going to take my gear there and stare into the starry abyss soon. No doubt my current gear will sound remarkably better under those conditions. Thanks again for the life changing enlightenment - I feel like the Buddha must have felt..
If you can't do room acoustic treatment and you don't want to change speakers then DSP room correction. 
Millercarbon - you got me. My system is woefully incomplete and I lied - I only have 10k Zimbabwean dollars to spend :( I am saving up though to get those generators, podiums and pods - will keep you posted..thx! Now go back to your regularly scheduled program of trolling..
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What an excellent reply to MC on only your 13 th post.  You have been listening and learning.  Me thinks the speaker upgrade usually makes the most difference, especially when you already have great gear.  
I am not completely familiar with your preamp but I would look for the best tube preamp under 10k.  I bought a custom Deja Vu tube preamp about 10 years ago and it is the heart snd soul of my system.  LTA and Supratek  would be on my radar.
Yeah I was floored enough to send it back for a refund.
Already have sufficient EMF pollution.
If the Lumin is your only source do you need the pre? 

You could flip the pre, your Kanta 2's and with your current budget move up to the Focal Sopra No3, or to very solid offerings from Legacy, Raidho, Von Schweikert, etc.
"...I am sure some folks here may detect all sorts of audiophile transgressions and even deem some/all of them to be limiting in nature and possibly even the singular constraint that precludes my objective, but if so, that would be unfortunate..."

You have asked a tough question. Don't take this the wrong way but your room looks more like a sports bar than a listening room. I dig it but it probably IS holding you back. I'd love to spend an afternoon at your place moving some things around and getting your system working it's best. I'm not sure why all the hung pictures are not rattling like crazy. Then it hit me. It's a big room and it's not fully energized. So with that in mind I have two suggestions; a) Move up the Focal speaker line and get a larger/better speaker.  b) supplement the bass with some subs (a pair of woofer towers would be best but your budget will be blown with the loudspeaker upgrade). I hope that gives you some ideas.   
Don't spend any more money if you're not willing to treat the room.
You're wasting time, money and effort without a treated space.
It's the same mistake most audiophiles make.
I did the same thing for 40+ years.
Finally treated the room and got a major improvement in sound quality, larger than any gear change ever did.
That plus meticulous set-up will give half of what you will hear.
If you really want the best sound your gear can give you need a dedicated room with a dedicated line, with acoustic treatment.
It's your money. If you don't mind wasting it, keep buying more gear.
Just saw your room. Wow! I must admit it is very impressive. It looks perfect for watching TV. It looks awful for listening to music.
Don't buy different gear, it won't help. I promise that.

Really nice mancave and gear.

If you're looking for better SQ at lower volumes, perhaps it is time to look at a headphone rig. At your budget you could find plenty that meets your needs.

Or... ...a second set of speakers (active? powered?) placed in the near field closer to your seated postion. Just spitballing that idea.

If I had your setup, and was searching for something better, I'd consider a different blend of cannabis. Something mellower yet sharpens the senses. 

Best wishes in your quest. 
Who knows whether your room is an acoustic disaster or not?  You can't really tell from a photo.  My question is why do you even think a dramatic improvement is even possible?  It's not like you have some entry level components. 
If your speakers are already satisfying dont change them...

Upgrade cost lot of money because when people think about it it is most of the times because they dont know what to do out of desesperation with what they already own....

Learn how to embed your system acoustically in the right manner...But dont buy any costly solutions...It is more fun and you will learn way more creating your own devices....

Try my last experiment... Cost: nothing... Reward: a totally new system....

"Helmholtz-Fibonacci silent organ" A room tuner i devised myself with bricks and plumber pipes in one hour...If you have crafty hands you can make them esthetically beautiful.....

They work with a group of three bricks of three pipes which have a lenght approximating the golden ratio, then changing the way sound waves react to the normal pressure of the room...Helmholtz is the father of room correction and the golden ratio optimize the working of the resonators on all frequencies....You must choose the lenght of 2 sets near one another and the last set must be with more distance in lenght....i located 2 laterally to the speakers at some short distance and the bigger set behin my listening position, you could put it behind your Tv... 😉

Experiment with your room it is fun.....

I sell creativity, not products or market conditioning, or some electronic blathering about new upgrading product.....

Audio is mostly acoustical embeddings not electronic design first, after that it is electrical and mechanical embeddings...It is easy to buy a good electronic design now at low price, audio engineering is mature for the last 60 years....what is less easy is to found the right way to embed these good products....

Anyone with money can buy a good amplifier but how to embed it for his optimal working is not delivered with the instruction manual, sorry.....

Dont upgrade, except if you are in the obligation to do it, embed them well before any move....

My best ...
What about a BSG  QOL ?  It makes a big difference in the sound. especially older recordings.  They're not around anymore, but TMR has one for sale.
Lots of toys... I like all the gear... You got to give it up OP, some wall treatment, floor and ceiling at least over your head and behind you..

The STUFF between the speakers, as low as you can go, and amps as close as you can get to your speakers.. under 3 meters if at all possible.. 1m is better, ay..

A beautiful Wizard of Oz Curtain, THICK acoustically TUNED fabric.

I saw Danny Ritchie set up one time, a long time ago at a CES show.. I was working there on Cat generators.

He used these heavy curtains and mobil panels. The BEST acoustics by far every time... Curtains and panels, made his already "great DIY" speakers even better.. Afew hours to set up..

Blow the doors off most audiophiler ideas about treatment, AND results.. You can put the curtains on some type of James bond looking apparatus.. Close in theme, anyways..

They can open and close for critical listing, and YOU can instantly hear the difference...I saw something very close in Aspin.. A little different gear and an actual stage. Again beautiful easy to clean curtains..

Clamshell canopy, for clear warm, moonlit nights.. What’s money? LOL

I think selected treatment would blend right in and NET great results.. I say a gain of 20% in BETTER SQ.. treatment alone.. Tweaks. who knows.. another 10% or more.

Look out if the Titan of Tinker shows up.. He’ll have a field day...No treatment.. LOL I don’t think so.. :-)

Happy Happy..

With Great respect and regard.. Nice looking stuff...
I’ve put a system together that I like over the past year, and have already felt the itch, myself. But as un-sexy as it is, and as "fixed" as I thought my room was, I now admit that nothing has improved my set up as much as adjusting listening position and speaker position. Doing this makes it clear how to seek out treatments for deficiencies which cannot be eliminated.

Some of the suggestions I got on this forum I rejected as not possible. "Move you bed" (I’m listening in a guest bedroom); "Lower your seating position"; get everything on the short wall and get those speakers out; get those reflective surfaces off the wall and out from between your speakers; move your sub around; consider multiple subs; measure with REW and then get treatments.

As someone who really enjoyed buying nice gear (and shopping, I’ll admit) all of these ideas seemed as un-sexy as could be. And yet they have already started to show that these answers are correct. Let the needs of my ears and the room dictate everything else, and the sound will improve dramatically. Otherwise, it's deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic rearrangement.

And don’t worry: you can easily spend $10k doing this. But if changes to the room are a no-go (as you said), then I think accepting that nothing major will change is something you should consider is a real possibility.
Audio nowadays is no more electronic enginering first but acoustical engineering first....

A good electronic design is easy to buy, an acoutically dedicated room not so.....

Ignoring this simple fact is throwing money to the street ....

Anyway the street need it also.....

But..............


Your listening  through streaming, tell us about your Ethernet set up.

Linear power supplies on the router, switch or switches. 2 Is actually better then one, FMC,s  (fiber optical, ) dc cables from lps to devices 

Router, switches FMC should all be on good footer, shelf’s.

All this and more well have a profound impact on your streaming.

Room correction with room treatment are the biggest dramatic changes you can make. Anything else not even close, even new speakers. If you can’t or won’t treat the room I’d look into room correction with something like minidsp with Dirac or the antimode products from Dspeaker. Correcting the bass will have the largest impact and will help with the lower volume level listening issues the most.

If your willing to swap amps, go with a lyngdorf amp with room prefect room correction.  Awesome
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tomcarr and dbtom2 are spot on. With that room and what you’re using it for, you’re pretty well maxed out in that man cave. Just enjoy what you have and buy some good weed.
OP I know you are happy with the bass and don’t want/need more. Unfortunately, you are missing the entire lower octave so I would suggest a large sub that is flat to 20 or lower. This is not "more" bass, rather, it is missing bass. Just looked at your room... nice! But its a man cave without the man octave :-(
Sounds like you like the sound you have but want better at low volumes. Would keep what you have and add a good powered sub to help fill in the low end. Make sure it is powerful enough to extend to 20 hz in your room and use white noise and a simple sound meter app on a smartphone to get it tuned in to fill in that low end. . Guaranteed big difference at any volume. You should be able to feel the bass not just hear it when it’s in a recording. Few amp/speaker combos have the muscle to do that alone though the bass that’s there sounds perfectly fine. 
One component and $10 k. Sometimes it doesn't take that much, and the "component" could be something you would have never considered. 
It happened to me very recently, and just from casual experimenting with a system I was already very happy with. I had a Tripp Lite ISO 500 isolation transformer that I tried in my last system. It didn't do much of anything noticeable in the way of improvement sound wise, so it went back in the box. I recently upgraded to a Bob Carver Crimson 275, and after some tube rolling, I was very pleased with the sound. Everything in my system runs through a Furman SPR-20i regulator/conditioner on a dedicated 20 amp line. When I ran the wiring, I checked the output for noise with my Tri Field EMI meter. It was putting out 88-90 mvp of noise. Surprisingly, when I checked the output from the Furman, it was slightly higher! I actually bought the Furman more for the voltage regulation than conditioning, so I wasn't too concerned about the noise. Then I remembered the ISO 500 and decided to see what it would do for the noise. Hooked up between the outlet and the Furman, it chopped the noise right in half at 44. Still wasn't expecting much, but after my customary 10 minute warm up, I got my socks blown off! Everything about the sound stage was better. Better bass, better mids, cleaner highs. It took everything I really liked about the sound and gave me more, and not just a subtle more, it was a very noticeable more. Would something this simple work for you? Who knows? The point is, substantial improvement can just as easily come from a $10 k amp as it can from a $200 isolation transformer that you had already kicked under the bus. Or better yet, never even thought of trying in the first place! 
If acoustic room treatments are not viable, then anything you spend for upgrades is completely wasted money.  

But try this.....

Distribute decorative 5' artificial ficus trees ($40 @ from At Home furnishings) around your room, maybe 8 - 10 of them.   Behind and next to the speakers.  And in the corners.  Even four of them will help a lot.  They are decorative room ornaments that also act as extremely effective diffusers.  They are not the ugly giant tubes or bulbous, bloated absorbers.  And artificial ficus trees are much more effective they the snake oil audiophile room treatments. 
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hobo1452

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That is very true.. I’ve remembered STUFF, that made a heck of a difference, too. Using a heavier gauge cable for PC and put a single or double coil in the run.. Changes the way an amps sounds, it’s not subtle either.. Just longer with coils.. MORE of everything, especially bass, and clarity in all ranges..Bottom to top.
If you want better and can hear better, that is in play too.  Has to sound better to the OP.. Gotta try though, just leaves too much on the table.. That gear should be GREAT... I know I could get happy..

Even with cushions from the second hand store, bean bags, and fish net for high frequency ceiling reflections.. LOL.. Awful 60s but better than what you got.. Narrow the field, push the speakers further from the walls. There is a TON there if you just TINKER..

Regards
The point is, substantial improvement can just as easily come from a $10 k amp as it can from a $200 isolation transformer that you had already kicked under the bus. Or better yet, never even thought of trying in the first place!
Thanks for your interesting story and wise observation....
And artificial ficus trees are much more effective they the snake oil audiophile room treatments.
Thanks for your very interesting recommendation...Beautiful idea for adding diffuser....

But be cautious before judging what you think is "snake oil" and what is not....
Speakers are the weak link. Get the best electrostatics you can buy for your $10k, new or used.
+ mahgister

I use the term "snake oil" very carefully.. It may work VERY well in one place by doing something completely unintended, BUT resulting in a great change somewhere else..

Cable risers

One is a vibration issue, one is a cleaning issue, ones is a routing (noise) issue. BUT all are a result of adding one single part and applying it a particular way. They work well for more than one thing.. I can't hear a sonic difference, UNLESS I ADD noise through the cable.. Again routing, and vibration, If I'm really volume UP..

Regards
Audition - the magic word.

Cone speakers are one sound. Electrostatics are another. Magnepans another. Horns another. Go to a high end store and choose what sounds best to you. My personal vote is ESL's, but YMMV.

Those who say that room treatment is important, are correct. But optimizing your speakers could make a big difference too. Most important thing - enjoy the journey!
I don't have firsthand experience with this (yet), but I'd bet it would make an enormous difference in sound quality if you have room issues and can't (or don't want to) do room treatment:  https://www.tonepublications.com/review/mcintosh-men-220/
If you replace the cables with OCC single Crystal wire that would be a big improvement over OFC fractured copper that you're using now.
These are not floor stand speakers, but it would fit within your budget - demo Magico A1 speakers (I just upgrade from B&W 805 D3 - great speakers but need to play them reasonably loud to fully appreciate) and I am blown away by Magico’s SQ at any volume.  I think you will find them way better than your Focal speakers.  
I use the term "snake oil" very carefully.. It may work VERY well in one place by doing something completely unintended, BUT resulting in a great change somewhere else..
I am on the same page than you.... And i will never complain about that...

My best to you....
Consider sound treatments by substituting GIK printed panels for some of your wall hangings.
Hey I say you have a system you obviously love why tinker? You could spend $10K on something it might improve things it might make things worse. It's tough to know and tough to audition these days. Save your money and enjoy your music!
Ditch Tidal & go to Spotify. I've used both.
“The only thing I can think of that could use some improvement is the sound quality at lower volume levels, although that is not terribly important to me since most of my listening is in the 90+ Db range”.

You keep listening at 90+dB range and soon nothing would matter any more...long term exposure (i.e. more than a few hours) will cause lasting hearing damage.
I’m seeing what looks like two other pair of speakers there. First thing I would do if I came over is move the two other pair out of that room and pull the Kanta out a bit. I feel those other speakers drivers could be literally “sucking the sound” out of your room. Your speakers need some room to perform well and the fewer things in their immediate vicinity (especially between them) can make a big difference. Less is more and the other speakers are affecting your sound. Then try the resonators and the Townsend stands.