Source Components, Genuinely Need Your Assistance


I currently own an excellent system that replays the source material incredibly faithful to the original recording. The system is exactly what I originally set out to accomplish.

Like many others, I set out to assemble a system that was supremely neutral and would replay the original recording truthfully.

My music collection is primarily R&B, Motown, Soul and Funk. Most of which was poorly recorded using standard/lower quality mediums & new music which was created primarily with the use of Digital Synthesizers. When listening to these recordings, voices and instruments do not sound 100% authentic. Its approximately 85% "real". Thing is I know its not going to get there simply because its not on the recording.

I know this because when I listen to any "audiophile" grade recordings, regardless of genre, my system sounds perfect. Simply perfect. I am completely satisfied.

I realize now, based on the types of music I listen to, I should have never ventured into this hobby as the recordings I listen to just can't do a high fidelity system much justice.

Now its simply too late, I am heavily invested and I want to enjoy my stereo with "non-audiophile approved" music.


I am looking for a new source component, DAC or CD Player that will "color" the sound to my tastes.

The midband must not overly emphasize vocals, but rather highlight them. Vocals should be completely organic, authentic, natural, realistic, believable, thick and enveloping. Budget $8000USD

So far I have found these favorable reviews:

Ancient Audio Lektor Prime
E.A.R. Yoshino Acute mk3
E.A.R. Yoshino DAC 192
E.A.R. Yoshino DAC4 (release coming soon?)
Vincent Audio CD-S8
Yamamoto YDA-01B

I'm looking for some assistance, preferably from members who have actually heard the components they are recommending or suggesting.

Once I have a solid list I will seek out the dealers and listen first hand, hopefully get some in home trials.

Any help is much appreciated.

Best regards,
A couple years ago I made a purchase that completely turned around my system It went from a typical high detailed shine a spotlite on every thing sound to a beautiful musical organic sound where every thing just feels like live music. I bought an Audio Note transport and dac. The have a variety of gear at different price points but they all use the same chip and there dacs have tube output stages. Highly recommended
Current system please?

Gotta know what you are starting with before anything useful might be suggested.
You can get there from here, but beware of "smooth" sounding gear. Much of it sacrifices detail and imaging to eliminate harshness, particularly tube gear, but not all.

If you want to retain all of the detail/imaging and dynamics while eliminating the harshness that often accompanies older CD recordings, you will need five things:

1) reduce jitter from the digital source as much as possible
2) eliminate as much digital filtering effect as possible
3) eliminate the active preamp connected to the DAC and use either a new technology volume control in the DAC or use a transformer linestage such as Music First
4) eliminate as many ground-loops in the system as possible, both analog and digital
5) regulate the AC power to your digital components

Your budget is possible, but it will probably run over to get all 5 of the above tackled. However, if you accomplish even 1-4, your old CDs will be joy to listen to.

One set of components that will do 1-4 is the Empirical Audio Synchro-Mesh reclocker driving the Overdrive SE DAC driving a set of Final Drive transformer buffer/selectors. Total in the $9-10K range.

The Overdrive allows selection of digital filter roll-off, so the 192 filter can be used when playing 44.1 tracks (CD). It also has a volume control technology that is superior to even the best preamps because it actually connects the DAC line-out directly to the amp. This is not a digital volume control using DSP software. This is a real volume control. The signal distortion actually decreases as the volume is lowered, unlike any other volume technology.

The Synchro-Mesh is a reclocker you can use with any CD transport, expensive or cheap. Even Sonos or AppleTV. Does not matter. It delivers an ultra-low jitter signal to the Overdrive SE DAC no matter what feeds it. The jitter in this signal is actually more important than the DAC, so this is a critical element.

The Final Drive inserts after the Overdrive SE DAC and will output either RCA or balanced XLR and allow you to insert and select analog signals from a vinyl or HT preamp and still drive your amps directly from the DAC, avoiding any preamp. It breaks the ground-loop between DAC and amps.

This configuration has earned awards (best of show) at RMAF and Newport for several years. Several customers have even sold their vinyl rigs after getting this combo.

Tackling #5 is harder. The only device I have found (and it works fantastically) is the Plasmatron3 from Around $3K. I don't do any digital without it anymore. Makes that big a difference. This can always be added later when the budget allows.

If you want to put some effort into computer audio, this will be even better than the Synchro-Mesh driven from a digital source or CD transport. More expense as well.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

A nice organic, 'colored', euphonic, harmonically rich sound.

I recently got the perfect DAC - called a Killer:

Trouble is hearing one unless you are in Australia.

BTW I am in two minds if it actually colors the sound - it sounds very harmonically rich all right - and that richness seems to increase with how good the source you are feeding it is.

Mapman makes a very relevant and valid point. Without knowing what your system consists of, suggestions will be futile. Even then opinions will vary, but at least there will be a starting point. Otherwise, basically mimic my system and you'll be set:)
I've always believed that the virtues of high-end equipment was geared towards acoustic instruments and that rock lovers would be better served by pro-sound stuff, such as JBL Pro or EAW. In any case, I would recommend you change your speakers to something that will give you high impact without being so revealing. IMO, that will be more satisfying for you than a change in source components. I own an Ear Acute and it will not turn a poorly recorded CD into a smooth one.

Check this out -
I owned an EAR Acute and thought it sounded very good especially when some great tubes were installed. So the EAR sound can be changed a bit by tube rolling.
However, I didn't like the quality of the transport which I thought was not up to the level of the rest of the unit.
Hi Shawn,
It would be helpful as others have mentioned to list your system components. I can comment on the Yamamoto DAC, it wonderfully natural and conveys the emotions of music very convincingly. The overall vibe-sound is organic with excellent tone and body, however it won't add gratuitous warmth or phoney coloration. In fact it's very resolved and realistic and avoids any hint of analytical- clinical artificiality.

It's worth checking in to and is a music lover's delight without superimposed romaticism. Cost (depending on the yen) is 2800-3000USD. I belive you'd really enjoy its presentation of music.
Good Luck,
I will have to agree with Charles yet again (getting tired of this:)
Yamamoto offers TOP sound quality/price performance.
Case in point: I am purchasing a pair of Yamamoto Teflon tube sockets because they are simply the best!
Hi Brett,
Well the truth is we hear pretty much alike, just look at our systems. I'd be
just as happy with yours as mine. I have no idea how Shawn hears music,
but if similar to us he'll adore the little known Yamamoto DAC.
Certain cables might get you from A to B.
Personally IMO all you need is one Cardas Parsec in the chain. Probably at the CD player or DAC.
It will fix some of the bad stuff, yet impossible as it seems, it still has clarity.
You can borrow one from thecableco dot com.
If it does not do it, they may have others you can try. But i will bet you buy a Parsec.
Most of [my music collection] was poorly recorded using standard/lower quality mediums & new music which was created primarily with the use of Digital Synthesizers....

When I listen to any "audiophile" grade recordings, regardless of genre, my system sounds perfect. Simply perfect. I am completely satisfied....

I am looking for a new source component, DAC or CD Player that will "color" the sound to my tastes.
In the absence of information about your present system that may provide a contrary indication, my suspicion is that investing in an upgraded high quality source component will not sufficiently introduce the colorations and lack of neutrality that you are looking for.

Two suggestions:

1)Seconding Chayro's suggestion, consider replacing your speakers. A suitably chosen speaker replacement will likely provide much more of a change in the direction you are seeking than upgrading your source.

2)Consider spending about $1100 on a DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core. Among many other functions, it includes a sophisticated 16-band parametric equalizer operating in the digital domain, which would allow you to tailor the sound in pretty much whatever manner you like. Given your stated goals, any reduction in transparency it may introduce, apart from equalization effects that you intentionally set, would be of no significance. And based on the accounts I have seen any such loss of transparency is considered by most to be minimal.

Here is a review in Stereophile by Kal Rubinson (Audiogon member KR4). (Scroll down past the first review on the page, which is of something else).

-- Al
+1 on the EQ idea. You can really tailor the sound to suit your tastes. FWIW, I happen to have a few old disco singles - Rapture (Blondie), Forget me Nots (Patrice Rushin), Feel the Need (Detroit Emeralds) and they sound real nice on my system. But they're never going to have the impact they would have on a pair of Klipshorns. You might consider the K-horns if you've got the right room, or a pair of LaScalas if you don't have the corners. But do try a good eq.
Shawn, I must chime in here. I read your post several times. Do not spend another dime, especially up to $8000, until we know more. I think what you are trying to do is frankly impossible with high end gear. Why spend another $8000 on another piece of high end gear that is a little colored or warm or whatever. It will not, in the end, give you what you are looking for.

All high end gear is rather true to the source and garbage in is garbage out even if the piece is somewhat off neutral. Bad records will always sound bad on any piece of gear or rig costing high end money. That is the simple fact and you cannot escape it in high end audio.

Changing a source will not do what you are looking for.

Please share your current system. You have some questions to answer before acting. What percentage of your music is poorly recorded? 80%?
Do you listen to poorly recorded music 80% of the time? If so, another complete direction is needed. Ya, sell your stuff and assemble a rig that gets you where you want. Frankly, a new high end source will not do it.

Almarg, is all over it. You need an EQ and you need a speaker that is friendly to what you want. My sense is such a speaker will not be your typical high end speaker. It may be pro sound or such.

Ever noticed how poor recordings sound decent on a Bose system or decent car stereo? Ya, this is the direction you need to go.

I have never answered a thread like this, I can't even believe I am writing this, but if I read your post correctly your case is different.
Yes, speakers like Khorns etc...., yes EQ, yes a different direction.
Speakers like Bose don't discriminate between recordings very well and that is a good thing for you as I read your post. Please add more information if your post has misled me. Old ADS speakers would work great and I am sure there are many others. Go to Midfi dealers and bring your bad recordings. Listen to many speakers with your selected recordings. Sure, they will be driving those speakers with big brand receivers, but you will quickly learn if the sound is more to your liking.
You and Chayro's suggestion of different speakers and especially your EQ
recommendation makes good sense. Grannyring in the context of this
discussion your advice is well reasoned. Assuming Shawn doesn't want to
dismantle his system, a high quality musically natural source is essential.
If the source is inadequate, nothing further downstream is going to correct
the deficiency the source generated. Some digital components can tend to
be mechanical, amusical and lack a natural liquidity and musical flow, a
good source can transform this type of sound. I would agree you don't have
to spend anywhere near 8000 USD to achieve a fabulous sounding front
end that effectively communicates music's joy and message.

There are a lot of products like that - but they just don't admit it.
From Reviews, "Grand Teton speakers are not difficult to place and are pretty friendly to mediocre recordings."
This one is easy- garbage in garbage out. A high fidelity system by definition is a faithful to the original system.

Realize that many recordings are mastered wit the sort of typical playback system in mind. That's why something can sound pretty great in a car and dreadful at home.

your best bet is an EQ and to recognize that when your source material isn't high fidelity, you're not going to make it into high fidelity.

I wanted to thank everyone for their responses.

I recently got my system, and its not quite broken in fully yet. I am discovering that it is actually changing in a positive direction the last couple nights. Especially when the tubes reach the two hour mark. Its getting very close to magic.

I think I jumped the gun here when I posted this, I should have waited a little longer.

If I don't get the presentation I'm looking for after more "burn-in" I may consider auditioning some other gear but I don't think it will be the source. I've tried a number of source components over the years. In my experience when comparing "top level" source components the differences are minor, slightly different presentations and levels of resolution. Changing the source is not going to get me the results I'm after as many stated above. You have helped reaffirm me of my original findings.

I think I will audition some different speakers as many suggested. I agree, I think the transducers will make the biggest audible difference. Thinking about going to some local shops to try out some different speakers, very interested in the Harbeth M30.1s and SHL5's.

Thanks again for everyone's input. This thread can be closed.

I completely agree with you. My dislike is more of a distaste for the way the mastering engineers have finalized their recordings for mass appeal. On properly mic'd and engineered "audiophile" approved recordings everything sounds incredible.

I am very happy with my system, hopefully it continues to evolve to my tastes with use. "Burn-in" is real. Some components really need a good 500-750hrs before any critical listening takes place as I am finding out first hand.

I've always been curious about these DSP Room Analyzers/Room Mode correctors but I'm such a purist that I never wanted to alter the original signal. Now I just don't care anymore. If I don't get the signature I'm after I will definitely consider it. Can't hurt to try.

Hi Shawn,
That's really good the direction your sound is taking, patience Is a virtue. Depending on one's system, any component can be the weak link and a change there can be dramatic. Not knowing your system, advice and recommendations are speculative. Since you listed DACs I went in that direction.
Best of Luck,
"I've tried a number of source components over the years. In my experience when comparing "top level" source components the differences are minor, slightly different presentations and levels of resolution."

Well, you just selected the wrong source components IMO. This is a lot like buying 10 different phono cartridges and then concluding that all phone cartridges are essentially the same.

The other thing that can mask the benefits of a really good source is an active preamp. All but the most expensive active preamps will cause so much compression, distortion and noise that the source benefits are drowned-out. A good replacement is a transformer-based passive linestage.

If you want to hear just how good the average CD transport can sound, just add a Synchro-Mesh. Its money-back guarantee (less shipping) makes this low-risk, less than $50. If it works for you, the benefits are great.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio