I think that if you own the 9000es now, the most cost efficient/biggest bang for the buck option would be to modify this player. The 777es should be better and have greater weight and stability (I was told) but the cost of the 777es and the 5+ upgrade would be at least $1500 more than modding the 9000es for slightly better performance.
I just purchased a 9000es and am currently having it upgraded. I decided not to pursue the 777es option due to the extra cost (I went with the balanced option) but I probably would go with the 777es option if money isn't a concern. I asked Allen Wright about the differences and he told me that he thought the 777es was superior but depending on your tonal tastes, you might prefer the 9000es on redbook.
As far as modded player vs Linn, I think you'll get quite a few different responses. My gut feeling is that the modded player would sound better. But since you own a Linn, you might like the Linn sound. Another thing to consider is that if you pick up a used Linn SC and don't like it, you can resell it easily for no loss. If you mod the 9000/777es player and decide to go with the Linn SC instead, you will lose something immediately. Keep us updated.
I am fond of most Linn gear, but I don't think the Unidisk SC is the way you want to go for a couple of reasons. First of all, remember the SC is also a processor/preamp, so a significant amount of the product's cost goes into these functions rather than just CD/SACD playback.
Secondly, the redbook on the SC is actually not as good as the Ikemi (the SC falls somewhere between the Ikemi and the Genki on redbook playback). If you can come up with the coin and find a good deal, a Unidisk 2.1 would be a great option. It is excellent on SACD and it is head and shoulders better on redbook than the Ikemi. I have seen these sell for $4000, but only once (between $4500 and $5000 is the usual price range).
I can't speak to modifying your Sony for SACD. I have never heard any of these modified players first hand. But if you have heard them, or at least have a friend recommending them whose ears you trust, the price does seem comparatively reasonable.
The VSE level 5 mod to my Sony 9000 is outstanding. It leaves little to be desired in a front end. Wonderfully transparent and open, yet absolutely natural and organic.
Thanks for the feedback. I've decided to have the 9000es which I currently own modded to level 5 by VSEI. The deal maker for me was the combination of 30-day money back (except for 2-way shipping) guarantee, and especially the ability of vsei mods to be transferrable to other (certain) Sony SACD/DVD/CD players down the road. Thus if either my modded 9000es breaks (i.e. its disc tray stops opening) or I decided to buy a 777es once I can afford it, the total cost of transferring the level 5 mods from the broken/undesired 9000es to a 777es, SCD-1 or another mechanically sound 9000es will only be $250 plus shipping both ways. If not for both the satisfaction guarantee and inter-unit transferrability of vsei mods, I would be more inclined to avoid the mod route alltogether and save up for a Linn Unidisk 2.1 (at a heft $4500-5000 used) or something less expensive like a used Trivista sacd player, given that the the resale values of big name unmodded cdp's are much better relative to modded sony's.
I have the same dilemma as you have. I currently have the ikemi and am thinking of either buying the 9000es and having it mod or selling the ikemi and buy the an universal player. From my research, I found out that Unidisk SC does not play CD as well as ikemi.
Didn't know that you can transfer VSEI mods to another player. Who did you talk to? Also, what happens to the old mod unit, will it still work or it becomes junk?
I was told by Warren Gregoire, the west coast rep/tech for VSEI who installs the mods, that the mods can easily transfer any one of the 'original six' (VC24 chipset) Sony SACD players, and that he will do the mod transfer for about 200-250 not including shipping. Once the mods are removed from a modded unit, it will sound that same as it did before the mods, since its original analog outputs maintained the original sound output all along while the mods were installed.
For what it's worth, I ended up postponing the modding of my 9000es, being fairly content with the sound of the unmodded unit when it comes to the better classical sacds, and instead purchased a VPI Scoutmaster turntable along with a good phono preamp and great cartridge. If i had any money leftover, I would definitely have rushed to mod the 9000es, but now it will have to wait until the summer.
BTW- I do miss my Ikemi, but in many ways the TT does replace it. Only problem is, I don't own most of my redbook recordings on vinyl!!! :(
The Ikemi is so good with redbook that I was a little skeptical of the claim that the modded 9000es would equal or better the Ikemi in redbook playback. I had no doubts that the level 5 mods would bring the vsei to a whole new level, but the Ikemi was so special that I was dubious of what exactly that 'whole new level' would sound like. So something in my brain went 'pop' and I got the TT.
I didn't know that you replaced your ikemi. Anyway, I agree with you that the ikemi is really good with redbook. What do you think the comparison between an ikemi with redbook and a 9000ES unmodded with SACD - any difference? I have not heard an SACD with a proper system before so would like to hear your experience.
I am currently on a lookout for a used 9000ES, and would probably do the mod soon. lets keep in touch when one of us do the mod. I too am skeptical how much better a VSEI will sound over the ikemi.
The best of my SACDs (my collection of which numbers about 15 so far) totally blows away anything I've heard from the Ikemi, including HDCDs. Even my girlfriend who was skeptical of SACD from the get-go had to admit that there was more air and space between instruments, more natural decay, and overall better dynamics - including microdynamics. Unfortunately not all the SACDs were as amazing and mainly it was the 'Pure DSD' classical SACDs (plus the Police Synchronicity on Sacd) that were truly amazing on the unmodded 9000es.
The difference between redbook andsacd was most pronounced through my stax sr-lambda (later sr-404 stax) electrostatic headphones, but I also noticed the difference using Sennheiser Hd600's with and without the cardas headphone cable upgrade. Even some older remastered recordings, such as the 'quad remastered' Elly Ameling (soprano) series had a much more liquid and organic sound on sacd compared to the same Schubert Lieder pieces performed by Ameling on my Phillips redbook cds.
If you get a chance to audition a 9000es (can't speak for the other sony's), I recommend bringing such disks as the Telarc Classic SACD sampler 2, The Rite of Spring (Paavo Jaervi conducts on Telarc), Brahms violin Sonatas (Csaba and Heisser perform on Praga Digitals label), Brahms' Clarinet Trio and Quintet (Opus 3 Label 'pure DSD' CD 22021), and Martin Pearlman conducting the Boston Baroque's performance of Bach's Orchestral Suites (Telarc Pure DSD). Actually all the classical SACDs I own sound very good and at least as good as anything played back from the Ikemi, but some are more obviously higher-res sounding, so to speak, than others.
The first two disks mentioned above are decidely superior in every way to any redbook CD I've heard on the Ikemi- no need for highly resolving speakers to hear it. I paid $600 for my 9000es at a local dealer, but much better prices (as low as $400-500) can be found online.
If and when I get the 9000es modded, I'll be sure to email you. For the time being I'm focussing on my analog front end (i.e. saving up for a used LP cleaning machine) , since as I mentioned before, I'm fairly content with the sound of SACD on the unmodded 9000es, having several SACDs lying around which are still sealed.
Thanks for the detailed explanation!
However I should stress the point that redbook on the unmodded 9000es is nowhere near as good as on the Ikemi. It has a decent redbook sound, don't get me wrong, but one more expected of a DVD player that retailed for $1500 six years ago. The Ikemi is truly special IMO for presenting redbook with a finesse that, in the right system, makes one question the limitations of 16/44. I agree with all the reviews regarding the Ikemi's refined and extended top end, defined yet slightly lean bass (my preference for classical and jazz), and overall musical presentation. I'll definitely miss that Linn player - even my gf was sad to see it go - but we (I say 'we' because she's an amateur classical musician who over time, long after I gave up trying to get her excitied about audiophile stuff, found that she had unwittingly become a bit of an audiophile nonetheless) feel the VPI Scoutmaster (paid for in full with the proceeds of the Ikemi sale) with the Lyra Helikon cartridge (bought lightly used - a chunk more $$$) and the Ear834p Deluxe phono preamp (ditto) has proved so far to be an excellent sonic upgrade over the Ikemi. Of course there's the problem that the TT won't play Cd's but we're working on that.... Which is where the future plan to mod the Sony comes in...right now I'm trying to forget my moderately sized classical redbook collection, yet know that someday something in the form of a sony mod or outboard redbook DAC may help those discs shine anew. Then there's the slight problem of us not having any loudspeakers, since I sold them to get the phono cartridge -so we're making do with a couple pairs of stax electrostat 'earspeakers' fed by a stax vintage tube amp. Ach..audiotrap
Thanks again for the explanation. When I auditioned the ikemi and Meridian 588, didn't like the linn right away. But after two days of listening I ended up returning the meridian to my dealer. After the linn purchase, I listened to ayre cx7 and wondered if I made the right choice. However, The more I played the linn the more I start to appreciate the ikemi sound. Piano and female voice are articulated very accuratly, and to be honest the bass didnt bother at me at all (I would say it has tight bass as oppose to lean). but, the lower midrange is slightly analytical. I wish it has more brass on some saxophone recordings. and since I also listen to some acid jazz that aren't recorded properly, the lean midrange is somewhat accentuated. These are minor cons, and have no plans to change my ikemi.
Anyway, I have very few classical recordings, but since my gf listens to them alot, I'm starting to appreciate it more. Your positive review of both 9000ES and classical SACDs made me take the plunge. Once I bought a used ES, I'll start building my classical recordings. Maybe you can give me a short recommendation list of which recordings to buy. BTW, I bought a Sarah Chang CD (my first classical purchase in 2 years), and was really amazed at her skill. The music was a bit too hardcore for me though ... (Shostakovich/Prokofiev).
I listed pretty much all my favorite classical SACDs above (my collection is still small), but of those I would say get the Rite of Spring (Paavo Jaervi conducts, on Telarc), the Brahm violin sonatas mentioned above (performances are stellar, and sound is very good to excellent for sacd), Beethoven Trios (Freddy Kempf Trio, some of the most delicate yet tight phrasing I've heard), and the Telarc Classical SACD sampler 2 (to give you a great taste of 'what's out there').
The unmodded 9000es may not be perfect, but for what it costs used, you can't go wrong, and anyway you;'d always be able to sell it since units in great condition from trustworthy sellers aren't all that easy to find.