System Plateau--Help Me Take The Next Step

I need a hand. My system seems to have plateaued and I need to bump it up a notch. In the name of completeness (and trying your patience) I’ll provide as much info as possible. Bear with me.

A recent wire upgrade to my headphones made it painfully clear that the main rig needs some work. For context, I have always preferred speakers to the cans in nearly all regards. Then I bothered to upgrade the cords on my Sennheiser HD600’s to the Cardas stuff. The cans are driven by a Headroom Home (and fed by a Meridian 508.24) and, with the upgrade, now sound much better than the speakers. Much. I’ve had a couple of complete neophytes over (you know the type, folks who’s benchmark music playback system is the stock stereo in their VW) and, while they have begrudgingly -- and a bit woefully -- admitted that the main system sounds better than they had imagined possible, they have both proclaimed that the cans were simply mind-blowing and in a whole different league. (The girlfriend, after months of making fun of me and some particularly pointed jabs for a $250 cable upgrade for headphones, listened to one track, took off the cans with a blank look, proclaimed “that’s f-ing amazing,” put them back on and didn’t speak again for at least an hour). Now I won’t claim that the cans are the best ever, but they certainly sound a lot better that the speakers -- though it’s tough for me to say exactly why. They are certainly more detailed and intimate, but, to some extent, I expect that from cans and do not really expect to reproduce it with a speaker system. They are also a lot more vibrant, engaging, vivid and all around compelling. The main rig is just not keeping up. How can I correct that?

The main rig (as per the system below, but again for ease) is, from start to finish: Richard Gray 400s, Meridian 508.24, Rogue 99 Magnum, Bryston 4b-st, Thiel 2.3, Home Grown Super Silver IC’s throughout, Kimber Monocle XL speaker cable, and assorted vibrapods on a Salamander rack (and a partridge in a pear tree). All power cords are currently stock, but I am expecting a full battery of upgraded cords this week. I sincerely hope the new power cords will be a step in the right direction. The room’s a rental, so the RGPC and the cords are the extent of what I am prepared to do as far as power goes. As for the room, it’s roughly 14x20 with an irregular cathedral ceiling sloping gently away from the “speaker end” of the room (the 14ft wall) and with the steep side being all glass. Speakers are about 3ft off of the back wall and roughly 3ft from the sides, eight feet apart and form, more or less, an equilateral triangle with the listening position (slightly toed in). Room treatments are currently haphazard and very unsystematic, but it would be very impractical to implement much more. Due to good-neighborly concerns, most of my listening is far from loud and low-level warmth and resolution is therefor far more important than stability at ear-bleading SPL levels. There it is.

As I mentioned, I am hoping for big things from new power cords. We shall see. Baring satisfaction there (and recognizing that any satisfaction, if satisfaction, will ultimately cede and fall prey to the upgrade demons anyway) where should I look next? The cheaper and easier the fix, the more enthusiastically and quickly it’ll happen. I still haven’t drilled the Rogue power supply and filled it with sand. I mean to. I’ve considered experimenting with new IC’s, but the price to performance ratio on the Homegrown stuff is hard to part with. Thoughts? Finally, my gut instinct (though yet unexplored) is to think about parting with the Bryston. I’ve recently become fascinated with the likes of a pair of bridged Rowland Model 1’s, possibly a Model 2, or perhaps a Plinius SA-100 (likely the ideal, but for the fact that they are just too darn big and run too hot to fit in my rack and would thus require a separate stand and be considerably less than ideal from a logistical standpoint). Q: is amplification the place to look? If so, what should I look at? Without more aggressive room tuning am I spinning my wheels? I might have accused the Meridian of being too polite, but judging from the performance with the cans that's clearly not an issue. Any thoughts or comments would be welcome. Many thanks.
Think tube amp, tube amp, tube least try one for on size (assuming you haven't already done so).
Changing equipment won't get you where you want to go. Your current system is quite good. From your description it sounds like your room is the limiting factor. If this is true, then whatever equipment swaps you make will not be particularly cost effective. The all glass wall is a sonic killer.
The cans are what you think sound the best (and other people) so lets try to work from there, the Meridian and the Thiel's should stay as they both fit the headphone type of sound you want (lots of detail with tight fast bass}. The Rouge needs to go, may be a good tube pre, but no tube pre's in it's price range will be even close to the last word in detail for your Meridian/Thiel based system. I would also change the Bryston amp if the preamp does not change the sound enough, If you think you need to stay with a tubed pre then I would go with something along the Bat line or at least away from the Rouge TUBE sound. If you want to get a real detail (which I like) sound then I would get rid of the Bryston also and get a Krell amp as I have, (Best sounding system I have had but would not sound good to a true tube-head as the sound is very good/bad, depending on the recording.I would also get rid of the Silver IC's with the Thiel's as they will only make your pre sound worse than it does already). The HD-600 are good headphones and I think some of the most detailed to be had for their type, I have some stax headphones that I think take it up another notch (don't let your girl listen to these though} or you'll have to sell your Thiel's and get some planers.
the power cords will help out a bit. the glass walls needs some buffers and if you really want to take it up a notch. put a ps300 on the front end of your system and youll flip out. try the plinius sa102 which recently came out its a giant killer and sound great or go with some tubes if you have never experenced this. tubes will knock your socks off. the ps 300 is hard to explain but it works with your room as you can change the way your system sounds by the various settings. the plinius even if you do not run it in calss a the first few watts in class ab are all class a.
Mezmo, you never do say anything at all about what exactly it is you now find lacking in your main rig. We're not mind-readers - how are we supposed to comment without specifics? But still, since it's headphones that have thinking, I would tend to assume that room interaction issues could be at the forefront, something from which 'phones don't suffer. Is is there any way you could try to cover all that glass with drapes, and set up your Thiels along the long wall instead of the short wall (i.e., farther away from the side walls)? One thing's for certain - I gotta try a set of that cable on my HD600's!
"We're not mind-readers" But I'm the Psychic!

Yo man, get rid of the Salamander and the Vibrapods, will you? You are not getting what you crave for because your system is not *tuned*, basically. I believe tuning account s for 50% of the sound of a rig.

Of course, I would add a few cheap but good power cords to boost performance (Absolute Power Cord, Chris Ven Haus & a few Highwire Wirewraps, for a start), ACME silver plated cryo'ed receptacle in the wall outlet that feeds your Richard Gray.

Start with the power delivery issue and include a little ONEAC isolation transformer (1 or 2 amp.) for your digital source...

You have plenty of work ahead of you...and I can see the future!!!
Good advice above. IMHO take the advice in the following order:
*tame reflections
*check the effects of equip support (i.e. try removing or replacing them, use your cans, too, for this)
*review speaker placement
*check the effects of power cables (give them some time to "tune in").
*try (i.e. do NOT buy YET) different speaker cables, IC's from the Meridian onward.
WHen you feel you've optimised the sound, with the present system/in the room, check the following:
*preamp amp only (demo one, if possible)
*power amp only (ditto)
*OR, get a pre/power combo on demo to try out.

Cans usually protect you from ambient noise & reflections, and their proximity to the ear makes the sound is more immediate and impressive. Your system has other qualities that a little tweaking should be able to reveal. Good luck!
All makes sense to me. The room is not quite as bad as I seem to have indicated -- the glass on the back wall is only from about 9ft up to the peak of the ceiling at around 19 or so. Not great, but not as quite as bad as a full glass wall (As if that would be a bad thing, I do sometimes do things other than grin in front of the stereo).

More I think about it, I'd have to agree that it seems the two most obvious culprits are the room itself and isolation issues (or lack there of). The room needs work, no question about it. The general tenor of the responses reinforces my suspicion that, until I suck it up and face the room issue, I'm likely wasting money by throwing it at other things. Project 1.

Isolation-wise, while the Salamander is hardly the last word in stability, I happen to like it. I'd likely benefit from doing better than the vibrapods under the Meridian, though (my sole concession to isolation). Any pointers on best bang-for-buck isolation items? Call it project 2.

The upgraded PCs are in the bag, paid for and in the mail. Power issues ("Project 3") is in a holding pattern. (So you know, they're 4 Reference Gold PCs from Custom Audio, two stock (for Bryston and RGPC) and two fully upgraded (for Meridian and Rogue)). Should have them later today.

As far as ditching the Rogue (apparently encouraged prior to the Bryston), the Rogue was a relatively recent addition and, in my opinion, was a huge step in the right direction. I love a warm and engaging sound. Although it seems I've not communicated it well, I'm looking for lush warmth AND detail, but if I had to sacrifice one for the other at some level, I'd take the warmth. Prior to the Rogue I had a VTL preamp, and the Rogue is a huge improvement in both detail and warmth, a win-win. The Rogue stays (for now).

Unfortunately, I don't think I can describe what I'm looking for any better than I already have. I want more vibrancy and engagement, but I can't put my finger on what's lacking to get me there. Could be detail. Could be pacing and microdynamics. On some tracks, at some points, the PRAT on the main rig is noticably off -- just a microsecond behind itself. All of these seem to gesture more towards better isolation and cleaner power before more aggressive room treatment -- which is why I was looking down the road towards a more authoritative amplifier -- but, without question, Projects 1-3 are: room, isolation, and power, more or less in that order. Once I get those better sorted out, I'll worry about where to go from there. Thanks again (and, by all means, keep the pointers coming).
Get this right, dude--Salamander type racks are no good. You have no idea what a good rack can do and I don't mean spending lots of money either...

Do you have wood frame floors? I would (sorry for the pun) be willing to bet you are getting a lot of grunge from floor/wall/room vibration. Also rack isolation or coupling to/from your equipment can cause loss of pace and add grunge. Since this is not a problem thu your cans, you are presumably listening to them with speakers off? This further confirms that vibration from your speakers is causing the problem.

Are you Thiel's on stands or points? Try feeling for vibration with your hand or ears against the floor, walls, rack shelves, etc.

Good luck.
The floor is a damn travesty. Sloppy, uneven, spongy in parts, sagging, suspended wooden floor. Pretty much the worst imaginable. The Thiels are up on the Thiel-supplied spikes, which are on stacks of pennies of various heights to actually level the speakers. Yea, a bit of a handicap. I've recently been playing with some more aggressive isolation for my components (so far an amalgamation of DH Cones and Squares, Michell Tenderfeet, and a Neuance shelf in the works). Though initially dubious, have to admit that the stuff really helps a lot. I'm now considering options for decoupling the speakers from the drum they sit on or, at least, coupling them to something else a little more friendly.
Mezmo, try this as an experiment: Get some concrete flagstones (or what ever your local Home Depot calls them) about 2" by 16" by 16" (or they may come larger - 24 x 24?). Place these on the floor on top of two 16" (or larger to approximate the perimeter of the stone) bycicle inner tubes about half inflated. Place the speakers on top of the stones wth their points making good contact on the concrete surface.

If this works, then you can dress them up with fabric, get something more attractive, or whatever. The idea is to get a stiff platform which weighs about as much as your speakers. The points help anchor the speaker cabinet/stand to the mass, thereby reducing cabinet vibration. The soft inner tubes decouple the mass from the floor to prevent the floor from vibrating.

Be careful about things being tipsy. If you are impressed with the result, then lets think how to make it more practical.