Jolida Jolida Jolida - and stop there with the CDP. It will be just fine through many upgrades of your other equipment.
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The Onkyo and the Carver are probably your weak links. Jolida or an outboard tube dac are both good ideas. The dac requires another cable, shelf space and power outlet. A nice one could be had for similar dollars to the Jolida. You could upgrade to a better transport/player later or one with 96/24, DVD-A or SACD capability and a digital out for your DAC. As the format wars continue, a nice 44/16 dac will always play the CD's you own.
Front end changes are valuble, but the gap between mid-fi and high-end stuff continues to narrow. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely improvement to be had over the Onkyo. Expect refinement, not miracles. You might find more performance/dollar with a different amp.
A few solid state choices currently on Audiogon.
Forte 4A $575 Mint
McCormack DNA.5 $750 Nice
Pass Aleph 30 $1250 Mint
These pieces can all be bought, played with and sold for little or no financial loss.
Thanks everyone for your comments. Steuspeed, your remarks sound like sober caution.
Besides, when I started to say I might upgrade, Dyna said, "no way, not until you give me some attention and affection." New tubes, new sound, then more trouble. But when I get that worked out, and experiment with different tubes, I'll have to reassess the sound anyway.
I am in a similar situation. My CD player is Audio Refinement. It is better than the Pioneer Elite it replaced, but not the biggest upgrade I have heard in my system. I have a tube pre-amp and solid state monos. My next move will most likly be a tube dac. I thought about the Jolida, but a tube dac seems the smarter move. All-in-one units are still attractive due to their simplicity and space savings.
If you are looking for new tubes, try Andy at www.vintagetubeservices.com I bought NOS telefunkens and RCA driver tube for my pre-amp and "whoa Nelly" do they sound incredible. This is an upgrade I highly recommend, and worth every penny.
WOuld have to agree with Steuspeed...although hi-enders would disagree...redbook digital has essentially "maxed" itself out...the difference between 16,20,24 bit technology is marginal(some even argue inaudible) ...other than jazz/classical...most recordings dont even utilize these so-called improvements...to really make a quantum leap in sound...there is SACD(limited but growing releases)...and Analog(hi-maintenance)...
Thanks again for the responses.
Ok, so my Onkyo built in 1989, though perhaps their best machine at the time, will sound similar to a decent machine built today? Or going with a second hand dac is a much better upgrade? Then, does anyone have experience as to how the onkyo fares as a transport?
To update on my Dyna, I swapped the tubes in the line section for the ones in the phono stage, and they were good. At the same time cleaned my (I'm embarrassed to say rather tarnished) copper power cord plug and expanded it for a tighter fit, and the results were definitely noticeable and positive. Could it be that the signal from the cd player is more vulnerable to uneven power due to the greater frequency range? I'm starting to think an upgrade from Curcio Audio on the preamp may be a step in the right direction.
As for the amp, the friend who gave me the Dyna Pas also gave me a couple of non-working Dynaco st-70s and I was thinking at some point of repairing one of those, and possibly modifying, perhaps with Curcio's drop in assemblies.
Hey Miser, Phasecorrect overstated the similarity between CDPs. I happen to own an Onkyo of similar vintage. I also own the Jolida. While the Jolida was on loan, starving for music, I plugged the old Onkyo in, and immediately unplugged it. I'd rather starve.
What ever you do, don't let any cable freak talk you into upgrading your wires. Your Kimbers will travel well through your audio journey.
Just an update on how all the advice was utilized.
Digital: I ended up with the Audio Note dac kit 1.1, used, and keeping the Onkyo as the transport. Result? Much better. I can say it acclomplished my stated goal of bringing the digital up to speed with the tuner- and then some, maybe.(Though the Jolida player may have given similar results, I'll probably never know)
Amp: repaired on of the Dynaco st-70s, and that was another huge improvement.
Cables: Added some 12-guage twisted power cords (improvement) and tried some diy interconnects (so far the kimber pbj remains on top).
A few tweaky tweaks: The music just keeps getting better.
Great move on the Audio Note Dac! How would you discribe the improvement over the Onkyo DA?
I am sure the Dynaco is a big change from the Carver.
It's pretty tough to beat Kimber pbj for budget cables. I finally moved mine out for some TMC Yellow's on my pre-amp to Amp. They are made out of a copper tube, so they essentially need to be bent into shape. They gave me a blacker back ground so more detail can be heard everywhere. Bass weight and ease was also improved.
One of the first things I noticed with the AN-dac was a mental time warp. The music seemed to be slowed down, ( though of course it wasn't, same transport). The feeling I got was that my mind was slowing down to pick up on the additional music.
With the AN-dac, I can listen to cd's as long as I please, but with the Onkyo's da, 2 or 3 songs was enough.
I just tried the Onkyo's da again, and it sounds like it should sound good, but doesn't, if that makes sense.
Accuracy?, timing? The difference is huge but strangely subliminal at the same time.
Your ears are telling you but you're not listening. The stupendous Magnum tuner and the uncompressed public radio stations mean you've heard the magic of analog. You need a cheap used turntable and a trip to your local Goodwiil store for the best sounding and least expensive media --75 cent LP's-classical, rock, blues, folk....
I agree that magnum-dynalab tuner and a good radio signal can be tough to beat.
As for vynal, its just not convenient at this time. But the stack of records is still in the parents attic. Someday maybe.
I grew up on analog, though not high end, and it always satisfied. However, I suspect that even on public radio, acryllic is spun more frequently than vynal . But I have wondered whether some of the "live" recorded broadcasts are saved in analog or digital format. Anyone know?
What I meant to say about the AN dac is that it has greatly increased the present listenability of cds.
You have discovered the slippery slope. I started with a very-used Dynaco pre-amp, beat-up power amp, etc. My advice is to pick a certain "level" that you apsire to. Then buy components at that level. For instance, don't spend $1000 on a high-detail, spacious sounding cd player if the rest of your components will be at a "budget" level.
Once you pick a level, research the choices here on Audiogon. Buying used means you can re-sell at very little loss if you want something different. Good choices in the $250 - $350 range might be Rotel, Cambridge Audio or Cal Icon, all of which should sound as good as your FM tuner. For a little more, you might consider an Arcam Alpha 9 (which I have and like a lot). For a little more, the new Jolida would be a good choice. Don't buy the older Jolida. It has a reputation for reliability problems.