Unsettled and considering changing stuff

I honestly have no idea why but I got an itch lately to change my main system. Probably that damned trip to Vegas to see the toys at CES. To my ears my system is very good and I haven't really changed much recently. So why the hell change anything? Do you guys get bored with your setup every now and then and swap things out even though the system as a whole is putting out some good tunes? In keeping with the spirit of providing all the information needed for other members to provide an informed opinion...

We'll start with the room...My room is roughly 14' x 25', cathedral ceiling that goes from 8'(back wall where the speakers are) to 20' (listening position). Persian rug of some sort on the hardwood floor. The speakers are on the back wall (standard sheet rock construction) about 4' from the wall and 3' from the side walls (toed in slightly) and about 15' from my listening position. Got a leather couch in-between the speakers but the Logan's are tall and don't seem to suffer much from having the furniture there. Directly behind my listening position is a set of glass patio doors but I have heavy drapes to take care of that. I have hospital grade outlets for everything, other than that no room tweaks. This room is the family room so doing room treatments and such is out of the question (I've tried every sleazy angle to get her to give in, no luck at all), and there really is no other room I can set up my rig. All in all not that bad a room anyway.

Music? My music collection is about 800 CD's and roughly 2500 LP's. I listen to my turntable 50% of the time, CDP 30%, tuner 15%, tape deck 5%. I listen to a wide variety of music but generally spend about 70% of my time listening to rock, 20 % blues, 10% classical. My musical tastes run from grunge (think Rage Against the Machine) through to Steely Dan but I spend the majority of the time listening to the likes of Dire Straits, Steve Winwood, Blue Rodeo, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Sting, etc... Yeah, I like vocal based music, preferably acoustic.

The current system (I never turn off any of my gear):

- Oracle Delphi MkIV, SME345 Arm, Grado Sonata Cartridge (marble base)
- Lehmann Black Cube Phono Preamplifier
- YBD CD Integre CD player (remote)
- Sansui TU-517 tuner
- Nakamichi RX-202 Cassette Deck
- Rega EAR headphone amp (used along with Senn 600's)
- Balanced Audio Technology VK30 Tube Preamplifier (with remote, EAR feet)
- Balanced Audio Technology VK500 amplifier (with BATPAK, EAR feet)
- Martin Logan Quest Z speakers
- Sennheiser HD600 headphones, Cardas cable
- (2) 5' Synergistic Research AC Reference power cords (preamplifier, phono stage)
- (1) YBA Diamond power cord (CD player)
- (2) Harmonic Technology Pro AC11 power cords (amplifier)
- (2) MIT Z-Cord II power cords (speakers)
- (2) Maple Audio Works Ambiance interconnect (Black Cube, CDP)
- (1) Transparent MusicLink interconnect cord (Tuner)
- (2) Phoenix Gold RCA-Balanced interconnect cable (Nakamichi Deck)
- Goertz Micropurl 25' Balanced interconnect (preamplifier to amplifier)
- Transparent MusicWave 10' Bi-Wire speaker cables (spades)
- Nitty Gritty 1.5Fi MkII record cleaning machine
- Custom built oak stand for source components, preamplifier, and music. Amplifier stand

So what's wrong with the set up? What don't I like? I guess I find it less involving than it ought to be, sounds good but doesn't draw me into the music they way I would like it to. Wonderful detail, but not engaging. I suspect maybe I ought to consider changing the speakers but I'm not a box-speaker fan at all. Maggies? Maybe consider the Avantegarde Uno? If I went this route I'd sell off the amp too cuz the Uno are powered speakers and have the added benefit of being designed to be used right up against the wall (they even sell wall mounting brackets for this purpose). Or stay off the merry-go-round and buy even more music?
Oh, left out the obvious. Part of the challenge; I would pay for any "upgrades" by selling off the current villain(s) for something else. No budget to throw some cash into the mix, but most of my gear is fairly pricey anyway and would fetch a fair buck on the open market.

Used is preferable to get the biggest bang for my hard earned buck. Thanks to all for their opinions!
It's the show. The purpose is to get your juices flowing and make you feel your system is inadequate. It looks like it was a successful show. Your system looks fine. I'm sure it sounds great too. Relax, take a few months, and then see if you still feel like upgrading after the hypnosis has worn off a little. Buy more music is my reco, and for God sakes man, stay away from those shows.
Jeff...Gives you an excuse to pass down stuff to various systems your kids have!! LOL!
How about an SACD player and a couple or Rolling Stones albums? I think that wil cure you ills. I see that you have an extremely nice turntable but just try it anyway.
Install some Marigo tuning dots on your walls and perhaps your windows. They can be painted to match your wall color and are not very visible at all. They should make your sound more involving in addition to other benefits. You will be more and more impressed with the results the closer you get to a full treatment. Marigo offers a 30 day evaluation period. This is somewhat risky as the adhesive on the dots can tear the paper off your sheetrock if removed. I doubt very much that you would want remove them though. Marigo Audio website
The Quests could be the problem. I have heard the Quests and Quad 988's. The Quads blow these away big time. Word is 988's are better than 989's. Used 988's are about $4000. Probably the best bargain in hi fi ever.
Dear Sir,

You are exhibiting signs of audiophilia nervosa, secondary stage. The tertiary stage, often terminal, manifiests by opening up a 2-channel audio business with the inevitable consequence of financial harm to yourself and loved ones. I'd suggest regular intake of Luvox or Welbutrin with a touch of Zyprexa as required when walking by a high-end emporium. Further, you could wire your mouse to impart a gentle electrical stimulus to your frontal cortex whenever you click on "New Today".

On the other hand, get a BAT phono pre and enjoy!
Some good suggestions and for the most part entertaining! Thanks guys. My Logan's are the Quest Z's if that makes any difference to anyone out there (more stable impedance than the original Quests). Yeah, those shows are evil. I fell in love with some big ass SoundLabs they had playing there, man are they a sweet speaker. The Quads are of interest, I know they had arcing problems with their early 'stats but I suspect they have solved this problem by now. I'll see if I can find a pair nearby to listen to. The Avantegarde's are intriguing; very low WAF though (they look like a jet engine) so they'd have to be a major step up to fight the noble battle of bringing them home. As for SACD, well that may be an avenue worth exploring at some point but really wouldn't help with all my current software.

I suspect I may be better off doing some more tweaking, the dots are a good suggestion. Tube rolling, yeah, I need to roll some more tubes in my preamp. Jeez this hobby is a curse at times!
What you need is another system or two. I like a different sound/perspective on a regular basis. In my main listening room I have two racks and two complete systems that share only source material, two different cd players and a turntable. One system is all solid state using Classe' DR-8's as mono amps with a Classe' DR-5 preamp powering Green Mountain Audio Diamantes speakers. I have mounted casters to the Diamantes so I just push them out of the way when not in use and cover them with with a thick towell. I keep everything wired and know the exact set-up positions so with a tape measure and laser pen I can complete the change-over in a matter of minutes. My primary system in that room is all tubed with a VAC PA100 amp and VAC Renaissance preamp powering B&W Nautilus 802's. For cd source I use a Linn Karik/Numeric or Sony X7esd and the turntable is a Technics SL10. So even within one system I can change things up a bit by just picking which cd player to use. I don't have a wife to please so I don't mind seeing the other speakers in the room. Maybe for you, if you have the rack space add a tubed amp and share your preamp or even an integrated amp. Buy some good two way monitor speakers and stands and just plant them in the room where they sound good, then store them in a closet when you switch back to your big rig. Every couple of weeks change systems and listen for a week or more and you'll feel refreshed plus you will find things that the smaller speakers do that the big ones won't and vice versa. By the way, you have some very nice components. I guess you'd need to figure what to sell off to finance an additional mini system. I have the luxury of another complete system in a spare bedroom using a Cary SLI50 integrated tube amp with a Triad Design System 3 speakers that are small two ways with a separate powered woofer and that system kicks butt for what it cost. I enjoy having this variety. I use the Cary as my reference system, it sounds great and I don't ever change anything but in the other systems I'll try cords, cables, and other tweaks just out of curiosity.
Since the majority of your listening is vinyl, why not shoot for a new phono stage? That seems like the most logical place to start. Given the fact that you like your tubed preamp, a tubed phono stage might give you more of what you are looking for. Just a thought. Sean

PS... Yes, shows can induce "evil thoughts" into your head. That is their purpose. Then again, audio websites and magazines might not be far behind what the shows do : ) Sean
Roll some tubes!!!!!!!!! You can totally change the personality of your amp by new output tubes. If you want to keep it subtle, change some of the gain/pre tubes.
Get those Sound Lab's you found so sweet! They are great if you have the room.
Tube rolling, adding a Richard Gray Power Company or power conditioner, upgrading your phono stage and the power cord on your BAT amp will help balance out your system. For me, there is more joy in discovering new artists than there is in tweaking the system. Here's a few suggestions from the world of international music:
Cesaria Evora: Cafe Atlantico
Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer
Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo
Orchestra Baobab: Specialist in All Styles
Compact Jazz: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Verve 843 273-2
FWIW, I suggest you spend the next several weeks (or months) taking in as much live music as your schedule permits.

Let me clarify. As a performing and studio musician, I have always found this a great remedy to all sorts of musical pathologies - unhappiness with the current state of my system, stale creative juices, dead ears from protracted recording sessions, fatigue from prolonged mixdowns, etc.

Getting reacquainted with live music washes all those things out, acqaints me again with the timbre of live instruments, reminds me that live sound systems are often lacking, and that the fire and passion and opportunity for self-expression in music is why I'm doing this in the first place. Helps take my focus off that tubed phono stage I can't afford. And those monoblocks that will surely sound better than what I've got. And that Teres turntable that Tom has been raving about.

Might I suggest you take your wife with you. This would present the added benefits of having more time with your spouse, demonstrating that it's the fidelity of the art, not the accumulation of equipment that you are pursuing (and that's the story you should stick with), further refine your wife's ear, and maybe even soften her up to the idea of that next big purchase. Or not.




I am leaning towards a new phono stage at some point. I'm budgeting $2000 for the phon stage, so I hafta come up with the extra $1500 to make the upgrade. In the meantime the Lehmann isn't too bad..


I do fool around with different gear all the time, particularly my home office system (also has a DR-8 amp BTW). Click on My Systems, they are all there. I'm probably due to swap stuff out and change things around a bit for a change. And tweak, I need to tweak more!
Some ideas: improve the phono stage; try a better grade of Transparent speaker cables, or try a different brand (Transparent might sound somewhat slow with the BAT); most, radically, try some different speakers. I have't been impressed with the Martin Logans I've heard; clear and precise, yes, emotionally invlving, no (and I have a problem with the bass integration). But that's a big money, big shift issue, and I know that ML has its devotees.
Hi, Jeff:

You aren't terribly specific about why you are dissatisfied with the sound of your system, other than having a need to "scratch the audio itch" (which all of us understand). Your system, overall, is excellent, so it would be useful to try to identify what specific component seems unsatisfactory to you.

If I owned your system, I think I would start with a few small changes that might enhance the overall performance, since all of your major components are very good to excellent. The first area I'd tackle is your interconnects. To be frank -- and this is not a personal attack -- my opinion is that the interconnects you are using are not up to the standards of the components. Also, I am not a big fan of the "mix and match" approach to cables, although I know others will disagree with me. My experience, with my own systems and the systems I've sold in audio stores, tells me that you usually get better results if you stick to a family of cables, such as Kimber, Alpha-Core, MIT, etc., for all of the system. Sticking to one "family" reduces the number of variables that you must consider, and allows for more consistent "voicing" of the system.

If you do not find that cable swaps help, then you may need to make some major changes in the system. You have two transducers in your system -- the phono cartridge and the speakers -- and they have the highest distortion level of any piece of audio equipment. They also have the greatest variability in sound quality of any audio component, and therefore yield the biggest change in sound. I personally like the Martin-Logan speaker line, but maybe the Quests are not the best for your rather large room, so speakers is the next area I'd experiment with.

Last, since you use your turntable a lot, you might think about another cartridge and/or phono stage. The Grado Sonata is a good cartridge, but for a bit more there are better models. I upgraded my cartridge from the Sonata to the Grado Reference (4.5 mV output, $1200 MSRP), and was very pleased with the improvement of the vinyl playback.

I am using the same phono preamp as you are, although I upgraded from the original Lehmann Black Cube to the newer version with the PWX power supply. If you were to look back through A-gon's archives, you will find a thread I posted in which I gave a VERY positive review to the PWX upgrade. If you have not upgraded your Black Cube, then I STRONGLY urge you to do so. The improvement of the Black Cube with the PWX upgrade is NOT subtle, and offers a lot of improvement for very little cost.

Well, that's my 2 cents worth. In closing, let me thank you for the many good posts and contributions to you have made to this forum over the past several years. I hope the advice you receive to this post is helpful, but always remember our audiophile watch-phrase: "trust your own ears".

Wow, a very thought-provoking response, I appreciate you taking the time. If I had to try to verbalize what's missing in my system I'd have to say it's missing PRAT. This element is absent whether it's CDP or analog I'm listening to, which is why I was looking downstream to figure out what can be done.

Your cable theory is an interesting concept and makes some sense to me.... I do use the same interconnect for my key source components (CDP and 'table) and I'm very pleased with them. I did extensive cable comparisons before buying the Ambiance. I know Maple Audio isn't as well known as some of the other brands in the market but they are very very good interconnects at a very resonable price. Not to say there aren't better out there but the Maple's are really nice wire. The other interconnects in use were hand-me-downs as my system evolved; since the tuner and tape deck aren't critical front end sources I figure the interconnect isn't critical either. Kind of a "don't care" thing. The pre to amp interconnect, well trying to find a reasonably priced 25' balanced IC was next to impossible so I bought the Goertz wire and connectors and made'em myself. The improvement over the single ended ICS I had previously was HUGE!

I know my cartridge isn't as esoteric as others own, when I bought it I was licking my wounds from breaking yet another pickup trying to install it. Damn I hate when I do that. The Grados have the threaded body, a true God send. I think the upgraded power supply for the Lehmann is a good suggestion and won't break the bank. I'll likely begin there then consider doing something about the pickup, although as you point out the Sonata is not a bad cartridge in it's own right.

When I posted this thread I expected a few comments, I very much appreciate everyone's inputs!
Jeff, that's alot of stuff you have there.

I'd like to suggest a few inexpensive changes to see if that gets you anywhere:

1. I don't see any electrical tweaks in your description. Assuming it's not, get the BAT VK-500 onto it's own dedicated line. And nothing else on that line.

2. Purchase some nice quality line conditioners for your components.

I'm not a big fan of the BAT VK-500 w/BATPAK as I once owned one and think that may be part of your problem.

However, it has excellent bass control and authority. And it does consume a lot of power from the wall. One other component or light bulb sharing this line with your amp can be enough to keep it from 'breathing' properly and providing you the dynamic headroom that can bring a system to life. Even at low listening levels.

If you have not already done so, doing the above should get you pretty enthused.

Is Martin Logan your brother?
I have a couple ideas: 1) the Grado Sonata is a very good tracker and quite good in the bottom and mids but has virtually no life, harmonic richness nor 3D in the top frequencies. So many MC cartridges would definitely bring on more life to the music; 2) I had the BAT 30SE, a step above the 30, and the 30SE too had a significant reduction in the presentation on the top.....then I upgraded to the 31SE and wow, so much resolution and life to the music now....much more musically satisfying. The 31SE is a runaway great value in line stages.
I really would recommend trying some different tweeks
to energize your system. Talk to Pierre at Mapleshade.
My experience is that most of us have systems with a lot
more potential than we realize.
Make sure you listen to the Quads and the Soundlabs. Roger, Brett, Albert and Duke might hate me for saying this but I think the Quads might actually sound better. I can't say this with absolute certainty however. The front end electronics driving the Quads were better quality than the stuff I used to power my last two pairs of Soundlabs. I haven't found a hybrid electrostat yet that had proper bass integration. I'd say that is the Martin Logan shortcoming as well as mylar thickness. You are not crazy. It takes time to find the system you can live. For me it was a pair of Shahinians and related electronics. I no longer crave changes. Oh yeah, in my opinion the Avantegards don't get the bass right either. As for room treatment. You would be better off deadening the rear wall behind your speakers rather than behind your listening position. Just my two cents.
Experiment with tubes or experiment with tubes.
Buy more stevie windwood albums.
Hi Jeff, thanks for a great post. Like you I found sd's comments really interesting. I agree with him that improving your interconnects would give you more music. I went from UHF magazine's recommendations ( Van den Hul The Second, Wireworld Equinox ) to Ensemble Masterflux. Here's what I told the gentleman (an Agon'er) who sold them to me :

(CDP to preamp) Artifacts diminished, female voice became rounder and more three-dimensional. I hadn't noticed before, but the music had been layered and flat-sounding, like a Disney cartoon background. Now it was filling out. The second Masterflux cable (preamp to amp) provided still more of the same kind of improvement : more dimension and naturalness. Harmonies and timbres became more subtle and relaxing, and the music made more sense. Digital artifacts were far less present.

I think you know Pierre Royer. He demoed some of his own handmade cables for me and they made a very nice difference too, at a good price.

Last, if I were changing components in your system, I would look at sources. A good MC cartridge--nothing under a Benz Glider--and a new phono stage would make a big difference. I switched my Copland CTA-301 for a Klyne SK-5A mostly to get the phono, and I love it. But then I'm a source kind of guy. Finally, IMHO your CDP could use an upgrade. Mine is now a Shanling CD-T100 with NOS tubes, and say, if you'd like to come over and spin some wax, you'd be welcome.
Obviously, a lot of different suggestions can be made (at a price), as evidenced above, and the results would be unknown until you took the plunge. My take is slightly different: the first thing I notice is that you seem to feel the system lacks something in the way of excitement, involvement, or immediacy, but you are not generally displeased with the way any particular part, or the whole thing together, sounds overall. Looking at the system/room/listener layout, I'm wondering if you might be a little bit farther away from your speakers than could be optimal, and the speakers (as dipole radiators) may also be a bit too close to the front wall. If your partner-in-decorating doesn't mind too much, I suggest trying to possibly kill two birds with one stone by moving your speakers a foot or two closer to the listening position. Doing so could offer some increase in perceived dynamic contrast, transient precision, HF liveliness, and soundstage clarity, mainly by increasing the ratio of direct to reflected sound both in the time and amplitude domains. Getting the positioning just right for dipolar panel speakers can be a real bitch, with each centimeter being potentially touchy in regards to funky phase cancellations and reinforcements, so you may have to work hard at this, involving all aspects of distance, angling (both toe-in and maybe lean-in a well using shims or threaded footers), spacing, and don't be afraid to even experiment with small changes in listening chair distance from the rear wall in addition to fine-tune. But if I were you, and hadn't addressed this issue for a while, this is the first area I'd look at before spending or changing out anything
Lots of good equipment...but I would certaintly "pare" it down a bit....Im on the other end of the spectrum...intergrated,source,speakers...I had a more "elaborate" system...but find that a simple, well selected system will outperform a more costly, complex one...also...dont get too caught up on the design of the speaker...find what you want out of a speaker/system first...for vocals and acoustic material that is rich and full bodied...Vandersteen and Spendor come to mind...very open sounding midranges.....forgiving enough for vinyl...unlike the Maggies...
Jeff: How did you arrange the wiring in the Micro-Purls when you wired them up for balanced operation ? It is quite possible that re-arranging how you have these wires pinned out could offer sonic benefits at no cost other than some elbow grease and fresh solder. Sean