System Plateau - Ideas?


The last time I plateau’d was
Rega RP6 (Ortofon Black) > Musical Surroundings Nova II > Line Magnetic 518ia > DeVore O/93 

2 changes, more recently:
1. Switched amplification to
DeHavilland Ultraverve III (Dueland Special) > FirstWatt Aleph J
2. Also replaced Ortofon Black with a Hana ML.

Overall very nice, but I feel I’m missing a bit of “edge”.
One direction I’ve been leaning is single driver (researching Omega). Another direction would be rethinking amplification. Has anyone plateau’d here? What did you try?

Of course, everything sounds perfectly fine as is :)

Cheers,
John
dotchaos
Do you still have your LM tube amp lying around by chance?

What do you mean by missing "edge", does that mean you are missing more detail or snap or resolution somehow...

Also, noticed you went from nice tube to nice solid state amplification, and while both are nice - they are different in sound and presentation as you well know having owned both of these very nice amplifiers.

Past few years I hit that spot again myself. Went back to rotating in SS vs. Tube amps again, and landed back at tube amps for one simple reason - the ability to make changes on the fly. Re-trying a wide variety of different input/driver tubes allowing for quick change of sound. While the J2 amp is super nice, you’re kinda locked in, it is what it is, and maybe some IC cable swaps to mess with tone a bit. Cable changes can be fun with SS amps too, a whole topic in itself of course. With your LM amp or other tube amps, you can try and rotate in different caps and different tubes to keep it interesting versus having to buy new speakers or other expensive components.

Some spend decades simply rotating tubes and coupling caps in tube preamps and tube amps for different flavors of sound. With your J2 it’s not like you are going to pop in different JFETs or different transformers, pretty much have to go with what Nelson picked, which also makes that a great amplifier - catch22. :) Don’t let go of that J2 though, keep it if you can. Always fun to rotate a nice ss amp back in too. Different flavors of ice cream! Just wanted to share you are not alone, many of us do the same... kinda what audiophiles do perhaps. Have fun.  :) 


Aftermarket power, Interconnect, and Speaker cables. Also for source, i.e. phono or USB
Overall very nice, but I feel I’m missing a bit of “edge”.

When listening to someone standing right in front of you talking, do you feel you are missing a bit of an "edge"? Just how much of "a bit of an edge" do you hear in real live music? My bet is, whatever that is, you're already hearing about a hundred times as much.
 @millercarbon thanks for the push around "edge". That wasn't the right word at all. I think what I'm missing is the fullness/roundness of the Line Magnetic. The slightly "thinner" sound of the current set up leaves me wanting a bit. What I've gained is a more even overall presentation and better sense of control. As @decooney put it well, this is likely a lot to do with the trade-offs between tubes and SS. Agree that I'm not missing "an edge" :)
@decooney I won't let go of the FirstWatt, also won't let go of the Line Magnetic (at least until I can afford the 845 premium). I did take the LM as far as I could with tube selection, but didn't get to playing around with caps at all.
I really dislike Rega tables and it is quite possible that you are not getting nearly the performance out of your cartridge as is possible. A friend recently switched from a Regar 6 to the entry level Kuzma setup and the increase in detail was startling. He uses a Benz Wood cartride. Never heard a First Watt amp that sounded overly lively. In fact none of your components would be on the bright side. Better cables is a good idea if you are using stock.  
@audition__audio do you have a preferred brand you'd recommend, for cables? I'm using ICs from an Etsy outfit called Amplifier Surgery, Blue Jean speaker cables. All very low-budget. Forgot to mention that I've been looking to upgrade the turntable, as well. Haven't seen a clear next choice, there (many options). 
I have the LM805 and use Devore O/96's, so pretty close your original setup.  Replacing the stock 805 tubes with NOS RCAs was an incredible upgrade.  Just curious if you rolled the power and 300B tubes in your LM amp?
not sure about the DeHavilland preamp you have with the Dueland upgrades  has the volume control been upgraded?  AC filter choke?  Resistors upgraded?  The one I upgraded a few months back sounded excellent once those upgrades were performed.  IMO the First Watt is nothing special at all.  I built a clone of it using point-to-point wiring and better capacitors and resistors and that kicked its butt big time.

Other than that, your system should provide you with much happiness.

Happy Listening.
I have an all Linn Akurate/Sondek/Keilidh Aktiv system in my living room, but spend more time in my basement office with a Knight Kit KA-40 32W tube amp (which my Dad originally built in 1960), Smaller Advents, Apogee Duet, Apple Music.

Smaller Advents were my first hi-fi purchase in 1973, along with a Dynaco SCA-80Q kit and AR XB with Stanton 681EEE. Most would scoff...

The Knight/Advent system is so much fun to listen to, involving, intimate, subtle.

My advice to all: enjoy the music, forget the equipment.


@dotchaos
@decooney I won't let go of the FirstWatt, also won't let go of the Line Magnetic (at least until I can afford the 845 premium). I did take the LM as far as I could with tube selection, but didn't get to playing around with caps at all.

With a push from a few local mentors who've been doing this for 60+ years, they led me down a path that started with tube rolling and ended with high-end coupling caps on my last three tube amp setups, fwiw.  
op

as miller appropriately called out...  stating what you are trying to improve with the right words to convey your meaning precisely is all important here... as you can see from the fairly scatter shot replies you have received thus far
dotchaos
Not completely grasping your idea of "edge" or "fullness", Nelson Pass built the FW aleph with a reduction of negative feed back but makes the claim of comparable distortion to his previous amps. Ok...so maybe not with what your combo provides even though he places this amp in second harmonics.
I believe this is what your ears are missing in what you describe as "fullness"???
This is basically a design that relies on phase distortions to produce variations in sound response.
Many people mix a tube pre with an ss amp as you have to attempt to get this "perfect balance" of "musical weight" to "crispness" of sound and for this to them may say "fullness" in capturing highs and lows to their preference.
Your complaint is "age old" when people move from tube to ss. It basically comes down to what you are used to tied in with what you have learned as your "preference sound".
Some people like that "tube bloom" (not to the extent of "bloat" however) tube amps may have as your LM more than likely displayed. It is what gives "weight" to music sound production with some compromise to "clarity" in upper registers.
So I am not quite sure that when you say "fullness" you are meaning "musical heft or weight" or if your description is trying to describe what you consider a perfect blend in all harmonic registers.
At any rate, I’ve tried to touch on all parameters but may have failed miserably for you.

It’s very hard to describe what you want from an upgrade when the margins are small.

i had a significant SQ up lift moving to SP5 Morrow Speaker cables and the cables i had previously were already pretty good. 

i believe that’s where you will get the best ROI.
If the bass in the room has not been “managed” then everything else is a mere compromise as it will smear upstream frequencies and you chase an elusive demon. 

@dotchaos
"edge". That wasn’t the right word at all. I think what I’m missing is the fullness/roundness of the Line Magnetic. The slightly "thinner" sound of the current set up leaves me wanting a bit.

@audition__audio do you have a preferred brand you’d recommend, for cables? I’m using ICs from an Etsy outfit called Amplifier Surgery, Blue Jean speaker cables. All very low-budget. Forgot to mention that I’ve been looking to upgrade the turntable, as well. Haven’t seen a clear next choice, there (many options).

@dotchao
Looking back over a few of your comments and others. A few touched on this already, and I’ll add a few comments in support of this angle.

Yes, "cables" and and interconnects specifically may very well be one area to re-focus on as a next step with the "current (J2) setup" as you referred to in your last update. Yes, your LM518ia with 845s in Triode mode will have a lush and more rounded off sound with more fullness. You can tone-tune the J2 setup a bit with different ICs, for sure.

To save $ and prevent costly do-overs, you could reach out to TheCableCo and take advantage of their cable Loaner Program. Or, find a helpful local dealer who’ll let you take home 3-4 pairs of different "well used" interconnects to try for a few weeks. Ask for warm IC cables...

FYI, I’ve re-sold multiple pairs of older legacy high end Cardas ICs to Nelson amp owners trying to smooth out or fill-out the sound a bit more due to the leanness you referred to in your current setup. Root cause can be speakers/matching, but you can cheat some by trying and rolling some different interconnects with your J2 (IF) you plan to stay with your current SS amp and speakers. Will say an 845/Triode amp is pretty unique and hard to duplicate compared to most SS amps, yet the J2 is the one I'd pick if I were doing lower power FirstWatt SS.  Good luck.





Hello,
I just auditioned the Puritan PSM156 Surge protector. I could not believe a surge protector could change the sound of my system so much. That’s the beauty. It helps your whole system. It costs $2300 for this model but you should try it. The best way I can describe it is like I had a thick blanket over my speakers. Once you plug in your components the thick blanket is removed without any harshness. They do have a less expensive model for $1600 which I will be trying next before deciding which one is best for me. If you cannot find a dealer in the US try Holmaudio.com. This is not a slight change like a power cord has on your system. It is like upgrading your integrated amp by $10,000 over your old amp. 
Upgrade all of your AC cables, and don't be a cheapskate about it.
Lots of great feedback in the past couple of days. Attempting to respond below:

@three_easy_payments

Replacing the stock 805 tubes with NOS RCAs was an incredible upgrade. Just curious if you rolled the power and 300B tubes in your LM amp?


The 518is uses 845 tubes, couldn’t find reasonably priced NOS, settled on Psvane TII, the rest is NOS.



@bigkidz

DeHavilland preamp you have with the Dueland upgrades has the volume control been upgraded? AC filter choke? Resistors upgraded?


I’ll keep thinking about possible upgrades to the Ultraverve internals.



@jkevinoc


The Knight/Advent system is so much fun to listen to, involving, intimate, subtle. My advice to all: enjoy the music, forget the equipment.


I love this message. My take: when you find a sound you love, appreciate it and let it be.



@decooney

Thanks for all the feedback and ideas. Will be exploring. Would actually also love to chat more about your specific learnings. OK to DM you?


@arro222

I had a good exchange w Nelson about the Aleph J and dominant 2nd harmonics. One reason I purchased this amp is because it was built to mate with “ high efficiency loudspeakers and maybe a tube preamp”, and favors “naturalness and musicality”. It also comes with ~250k Ohm input impedance.


I did believe that mixing it with the DeHavilland would create the

"perfect balance" of "musical weight" to "crispness" of sound 
as you say so well. I think that’s what I’m pausing on now. I appreciate the way you actually articulated what I was trying hard to express :)



@soma70

It’s very hard to describe what you want from an upgrade when the margins are small.


Thanks for this, it was indeed hard, at least for me :) I’ll definitely keep considering cable upgrades, this seems like some of the most consistent advice in this thread.



@bigwave1

If the bass in the room has not been “managed” then everything else is a mere compromise


Room treatment is an admittedly neglected aspect of my system. I’m not in what I consider much of a permanent listening space so have been loath to invest too heavily in correcting a far less than ideal environment, and am suffering some consequence for sure.



@hshifi

I could not believe a surge protector could change the sound of my system so much.

I use all 3rd party power cables, and am employing a Furman PST-8 conditioner as my first step toward line treatment. Definitely higher gains to be made here.


@denverfred

Upgrade all of your AC cables, and don't be a cheapskate about it.


It seems this “hobby” accommodates all levels of investment – one person’s cheapskate is another person’s over-spending lunatic. Overall it seems that there’s a balance of investment at different levels of spending, and my take from your comment is that you feel the greatest current imbalance is in the cables between the specific equipment I've mentioned. Is that right?



Thanks all for the feedback. Lots for me to look into.









 



Get Harry James, King James DD..... I bet you are missing some edge 
The question is serious, what is your reference?

you have and have had some great gear :-)
Anything you can do to remove EMI/RFI: Acoustic Revive RTP2-6 pwerconditioning and power cables, REM-8 grungebuster, if possible, a separate power spur from your junction box and Bybee speaker bullets. Protecting power supply and cables from interference is often overlooked but incredibly rewarding. Start with shorting plugs on all inputs, doesn‘t cost much.
If you seriously are rethinking your amp: Wavac EC300b, a match made in heaven with high efficiency speakers. 
@tomic601 curious what you mean by reference. As in, system? Or, what am I listening for/what is important?
Yes the music you are using as a reference:-)
I listen to a little of everything, but these are some familiar references that should pass with flying colours:


  1. "Turn to me" – Lou Reed, New Sensations. An electric guitar, Lou’s voice, and a choir melding on "Turn to me", before Fernando Saunders’ bass threads in the rhythm section. Two separate things here: Correctly portraying and balancing the three elements of the opening passage, then the liquidity and momentum of the bass carrying into the transition. Fernando Saunders’ sinuous lines should underpin the whole record.
  2. "Cepa Andaluza" – Paco de Lucia, Fuente y Caudal. How real do the hand-claps and audience participation feel? Does the system capture Paco’s pinpoint playing?
  3. John Fahey, Requia, Side 1 (only). Unadorned acoustic guitar. Do I feel the guitar resonating and the shifts in sonic character as Fahey moves up and down the frets?
  4. "Peace" – Chico Freeman, Spirit Sensitive. Do I get the full frequency range of this tune, and especially the distinct low-end heft and detail of Cecil McBee’s bass? McBee takes a flight of fancy around mid-way that’s something to hear.
  5. "Blu-a-round" – Sahib Shihab, Jazz Sahib. Does the system lay back enough to let this band build up their groove? Also some wonderful harmonic lines and generally beautifully recorded blowing.
  6. "For Turiya" – Charlie Haden, Closeness Duets. Do I hear the scale of Alice Coltrane’s harp, and are her and Haden’s lines perfectly delineated and complementary to one another?
super well thought out, i have some of this, will listen this eve. i don’t necessarily think you should abandon “ edge”... just yet....