The next step to a better system

Hi everyone

I have been putting together a system for the last few years and need some of your wise and varied knowledge to help me take the next step.

My current system is

Harman Kardon HK990 intergrated

Revel F52 speakers


VPI Aries Scout with an Ortofon 2m Bronze mm cart

Herron VTPH 1mm phono preamp

Onkyo CDP DXC390

Belden BJC LC-1 interconnects

12 gauge, 87 strand, oxygen free copper speaker cables

Every step I've taken so far has lead me to a better audio listening place. 

I would also like to figure out the best way to introduce a good digital music source into my system. Currently I just hook up my smart phone through an Aux on the HK990 and listen to Pandora and Spotify. 

And of course I would like to improve on the analogue side of my system.

So any guidance would be helpful.

Thank for your time and knowledge

I would see if upgrading speaker cables and interconnects. I know it sounds like VooDoo but after listening to basic OTC stuff to hi end "wires" made a great difference. I would start with a good (not a surge supressor, a good one) and a power cord. The Cable Company has a good "Library lending" program where you can try cables out before buying. We are talking subtle changes but should benefit entire system

For streaming consider the Bluesound Node 2 and a subscription to Tidal HiFi with uncompressed cd quality streams.  You can use the onboard DAC for starters or connect to a DAC of your choosing.

 On the analog front, I would say your cartridge may be interesting to upgrade. It seems your phono preamp can handle a moving coil cartridge, so perhaps a nice step up in that department would be very worthwhile.  I highly recommend the Lyra Delos.
I use Spotify at my office and love the almost endless library of music out there as I’m always discovering artist I’ve never heard of daily. I’ve not tried Spotify at home on my main system so I can’t speak how it sounds but I’ve read plenty about how Tidal is much better. As far as hooking my iPhone up through an aux input I’ve not tried that either, but I can’t imagine it’s that great. Definitely agree with the post above.

As far as your system vs your cables go; you have a nice system that I think you’ll find a cable upgrade will be well worth it. The Cable Co. as mentioned is a great and safe source. Another great option that is just as safe is Clear Day Cables. Paul’s cable are outstanding and he is the nicest guy in the business that strives to have happy customers. If you don’t like his cables or they just don’t work in your system he will happily refund your money. Are Clear Day Cables the best cable out there? No. You’ll have to spend a lot more to better them and if you search on this forum there are many happy users here that state the same.

If you where going to upgrade your cables, what’s your budget? That will help others give you helpful and realistic suggestions.

You might not like my answer, since it will not answer your digital or analog side. I have found that two of the biggest improvements that you can get in a system are:
1. Proper AND precise placements of loudspeakers in the room
2. Room treatment

Have you done these before you move on buy expensive equipment?
Hi Milpai,

I'm open to all suggestions.

I have done a lot of research concerning speaker placement and have spent the time experimenting with different placements. The one constant being that the distance between the speakers is the same as the distance from the speakers to my listening position.  

The room is 24' x 15' with 9' drop ceiling. I don't have a lot of bare walls. There are canvas paintings,  Bookcases, plants, wall to wall berber carpeting over wood floors. It's on a second floor. The speakers are spiked and on painted particular board slightly larger then the base of the speakers. There is lots of wood / fabric furniture in the room and the windows have sheers and drapes.

Since you're a Spotify fan, you might opt for running it on your 'puter instead of the phone.  It allows for using a good sound card and your choice of the available programs, both freeware and purchased.  You can choose from fairly sophisticated eq's, room correction with the addition of a calibrated mic, measurement routines....everything from the simple to the sublime.

And no interrupts when the phone rings....or whatever your phone does to get your attention...*G*
Lyra Delos
On the digital side, consider getting into computer audio and the purchase of an external DAC. Both Computer and your CDP could be run through the DAC. Essentially, you would be taking the same route you did with analog, replacing the internal phonostage with a better external one.

On the analog side, you may want to try a different cartridge, one that mates well with your tonearm and phonostage.
Thanks Mesch,

Could you recommend an external DAC or 2.

What specs would I be looking for in a great DAC?

What would you consider as a budget for a DAC? You will need a coax input for your CD player (thinking it has coax digital out) and asynchronous USB for computer.   I currently playback only redbook CD quality files, wether via computer or disc player. I am using a Bryston BDA-1 DAC with a USB/SPDIF converter for computer. At the time I purchased my DAC (2011) I felt there were 2 ways to go, buy an older DAC lacking asyn USB and use the converter, or, buy a New DAC. I wanted one with a quality power supply and analog output stage so I bought used and added the converter. Today there are many quality USB DACs available at all budget levels. As one option, I would check out Schiit Audio DACs. Again, what is your budget?
Just had an after thought, I believe your HK has a DAC and coax input. Is that true? If so, you could purchase a USB/SPDIF converter and run it directly into your amp as a way to get into computer audio inexpensively. For streaming internet radio this approach might suffice. I have purchased several used converters here on AG for under $100. It would make an excellent device for Redbook CD or internet radio playback.
Thanks Mesch,

After some digging around I am looking at a Cambridge Audio Azur 851D. They retail for around $1650 but I found a new one on sale for $799. It seems to be very versatile unit.

Specs are here……

I like the fact it has bluetooth capabilities.

Also looked at a Benchmark DAC2 HGC ($1995). It's supposed to sound better but at a difference of $1196 I'm leaning towards the Cambridge and putting the difference towards a new cartridge or the SVS SB13 Ultra Sub.


I did check out the Schiit Audio DACs. They seemed nice but I like having options and they were pretty straight forward.

I would seriously consider the Schiit DAC's. I own a Bifrost Multibit, and I can say it is unbelievably good, especially considering the price. I believe they offer a 30 trial, too.
I like the idea of the cambridge 851D and the similar Sony, but I feel constrained by such a unit.  I like the idea of a separate DAC and a separate streamer or small computer.  For now I use a mac mini and external HD to stream to my PS Audio DAC.  I am using Tidal hifi as well as my own ripped CD collection all controlled by Roon, which I adore.  Who knows, in the future, I may opt for a streamer such as an auralic or a blue sound instead of the mac mini.  I think that the ability to change the streaming style and software is nice to keep independent from the DAC.  In my case, I may want to change the streaming part and keep the same DAC or vice versa, and at different times.  All that said, that seems like a killer deal on the 851D that you found!  Almost too good to pass up, and just try on for size.  It will be challenging to find a quality DAC and decent streamer that cheap. (though possible I guess with a used Bluesound Node version 1 and a used, reasonably priced DAC).
Seems like a great deal on the 851D! Upgrading your CD player and allowing for computer access in one box. Minimizes cable needs also. Does this unit have USB input? 
It does have a USB. But now another decision... The Cambridge 851D or the Oppo 105?
The 851D is a DAC and preamp… no cd.

The 851C is a Dac and cd player.

I currently use a Play Station-3 for dvd / blueray and am very happy with the results. I'm more interest in the DAC for my 2 channel system.

I believe the Oppo can run DSD but the Cambridge does not. Don't actually know what that is or if I would use it.

I suspect running my Onkyo cdp through the Cambridge would significantly upgrade the sound qualities coming from it.  

Sorry,i was confused with the 851C.  I also believe using the 851D as DAC with your Onkyo would be an improvement. Use a quality 1.5 meter coax cable. 

In as much as I believe the 850D represents good value at your quoted price, if you are not interested in having preamp function, there are many DAC options available for ~$800.

My limited attempt at describing DSD. DSD is direct stream digital with bits delivered 1 at a time at very fast rates, as apposed to PCM which is Pulse Code Modulation where bits (1s vs. 0s) are served in bytes (8, 16, 24 32) at different sample rates (44.1, 48, and multiples thereof). PCM serves redbook CD and internet streaming, DSD serves SACD and other forms of hi-rez file formats. There are several other on this forum who could provide a better explanation.
I know Oppo has Tidal and Pandora clients on their blu ray players, controllable via the Oppio Media Control app. An inexpensive upgrade might be the Parasound Z DAC v. 2, really an easy to love DAC for the price.  Another option might be the Fiio X7 player + K5 desktop hub. No remote though. 
if your turntable is on the same floor has your speakers ,,,, fix that now ! (wall mount)
I recently added an Oppo 105D and I really like the sound it is producing.

I wanted to use Tidal but at $20 a month for now I'll stick with Pandora, iTunes, Youtube. 

Are there other free or lower cost options for high quality streaming?

IMO the most value for improvement comes from taming your room via  room treatment. All the wood and furniture, etc will not tame the rooms sound wave interactions. Its a lesson I learned from years of experience. After many, many upgrades to new and "better" equipment and accessories the single least expensive and highest value came from proper room treatments. Room treatment will make the largest overall improvement and is the least expensive. I tried many expensive ways to improve my experience that did in fact make subtle improvements but none were as pronounced as when I treated the room. I suggest to get your rooms acoustics under control and then decide if you still need to spend big money on subtle improvements.
Congrats on the Oppo! 

I don't stream that often, use Pandora with our living room system. I would like to try Spotify which allows listening to entire albums. I believe it costs~$10/mo however. 
Congrats on the 105D. I suggest AC power conditioning and isolation to reveal the great sound available from what you have. Experiment. 
Thanks guys,

Are there any great sources to refer to for room treatments?

Ptss… I was looking into the AC power conditioning end of things. In your opinion at what price is someone just throwing money away concerning power conditioning products?

I was looking at the Furman brand.

Best and least expensive is GIK Acoustics. Great advice.

After that ASC is very good and very expensive.

You could experiment going up the various line of conditioners (via dealer loaners) and determine where your needs are met, i.e. no further refinement in sound quality. For value you want to buy a conditioner that does what you require and not more;however, I believe many companies enhance the conditioning/isolation capabilities as they build units designed to handle more devices or more power,so that makes choosing a bit of a challenge. I don't think buying the top of line Furman would be a waste of money;in fact it will be a permanent investment that you can build upon with power cords in the future (of course you can do the same with lesser units).By experimenting I have found isolation via balanced power units(in my case Equitech) to be so beneficial for my Spectral/MIT system that I have 2 isolating units, one for analog another for digital. I realize I'm a 'bit' obsessive about sound quality but I dislike listening to orchestral music without clarity and find the improved dynamics and nuance very enjoyable with solo instruments such as flute,guitar,woodwinds,harp and horns. Obviously I have found isolation and pristine power to be the foundation of a great listening experience. Cheers.
Room treatment/taming should rank high on list of obtaining a better system. By comparison to the cost of equipment these days it is a cheap and valuable way to improve any system. In my humble opinion of course.
For 1 source on room treatments check out ATS Acoustics, Piper City, Illinois. I purchased from them the supplies to build my own panels. 
I am in total agreement with those who have recommended Room Treatment and speaker placement. ATS Acoustics, GIK, great sites. ASC and RPG more expensive. You CAN make your ( maybe not stratospheric costing system sound like it is with/ speaker placement, room treatment, dedicated electric. Work on it! Good WAF helps too!
asvjerry139 posts05-24-2016 11:39pmSince you’re a Spotify fan, you might opt for running it on your ’puter instead of the phone. It allows for using a good sound card and your choice of the available programs, both freeware and purchased. You can choose from fairly sophisticated eq’s, room correction with the addition of a calibrated mic, measurement routines....everything from the simple to the sublime.

And no interrupts when the phone rings....or whatever your phone does to get your attention...*G*

Current phones and a few older previous models by Samsung to name one have better chip sets than all but upper tier PC’s that come better equipped. Even then chances are they can be equaled. Of course everything takes a little researching to know for sure.

For people that were turned off by the sound of their cell phones in the past I insist that they give them another try, providing there up to date. Cell phone companies have been concentrating more on the audio signals they reproduce.

My cell has a respected Wolfson chip in it and sounds quite good. How do I better it? By running an outboard DAC packing a little more advanced dual chips and some other perks. I use the mini USB output instead of the 3.5 jack and let my balanced DAC do the converting. This way incoming calls do not interrupt my listening session, too.

I’ll be happy when true high res is offered by one of the music streamers. Then it will probably take a little time until the others catch on and prices come down. Once one monopolizes it I wouldn’t be surprised to see $40 monthly billing. Like most other things its only a matter of time until the tech becomes convenient enough and of course profitable to them.