Upgrade advice needed


Let me tell you my story.

Piece by piece, I've been gradually building an audiophile quality system.

My system is a Toshiba Laptop w/ J River playing FLAC files into a Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2. The laptop is dedicated exclusively as a music server. I've stripped most of the background processes from the Laptop and disconnected from the internet. The only external connections are the USB line to the DAC and a Mouse connected by the other USB connector

I don't have a preamp, the W4S DAC has onboard volume control.

I'm using a NAD 356 BEE Integrated amp but bypassing the preamp module and routing the DAC input directly to the power amp. The speakers are Vienna Acoustic Beethoven Baby Grands. I use LAT International SS-800 MkII 6 ft speaker cords and Pangea AC-14, 14 Gauge after market power cords for the NAD amp and the DAC. I installed Albert Porter Outlets. I do not have any power conditioners.

I live in an apartment so room treatments and dedicated circuit wires are out.

Musical tastes are primarily chamber music and some classic jazz of 1950s and 60s.

I listen near field - 6 feet from speakers and prefer moderate volume. I don't have much interest in Home theater or television in general.

My biggest source of frustration is the reproduction of violins and pianos. I recently ripped a CD of Bachs Violin Sonatas by Arthur Grumiaux. The sound is so harsh a cannot listen for more then 10 minutes.

My issue with pianos is the percussive aspect of the instrument seems to overwhelm the musical tone. I have a collection of Chopin Polonaises and it sounds like the artist is playing the piano keys with a hammer.

Other instruments sound better -- Cellos, brass, woodwinds, vocals.

I'm wondering what the next step in my upgrade evolution should be. I been intrigued by the First Watt line of amps. They seem to be a good fit for me. But, I don't know, will that address my issues with violins?

I could spend up to 5K now and, perhaps a year from now, I could swing another 5K for the next component

I'd welcome any suggestions.
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Try using the W4S as a DAC only, and use the pre-amp section of the NAD, just to see what happens.

The symptoms you are describing are usually early in the chain and I've owned the W4S and NAD, and neither are harsh.

If you are looking to upgrade, stop using the W4S as a pre-amp, it's a good DAC but not a good pre-amp. I'd be looking for a much better integrated amp in the short term, along with a review of your USB cable and interconnects (dac to integrated). They will have the biggest impact at resolving your issues.
Focus on the DAC and pre-amp.

Maybe consider a wireless connection from a music streaming device like Sonos to computer music server to help isolate computer from music making gear. At this point in particular, what else you do with teh computer should not matter much.

At this point, maybe consider adding a tube DAC or tube pre-amp for that type of music in particular if still not clicking.

I use Logitech Squeezebox via Wifi currently to SS mhdt Constantine DAC which is a fantastic sounding bargain. DAC as well as phono for comparison goes to ARC sp-16 tube pre-amp.

Squeezebox is a thing of the past now though, so a newbie is better served starting elsewhere perhaps, though SB system is fantastic still in every regard.

There are android based devices available as media streamers these days, some with digital audio out to feed a dac. PLEX media server can run on these. I have an Amazon FIre TV box that can work this way with PLEX app but have not tried yet. I am testing out PLEX currently for mobile access to my FLAC files, and that is working out well to-date. THis is alongside Squeezebox at present for in-home streaming, but I will eventually need to move on so prepping for that.
I agree with Meiwan, just use the W4S as a DAC and get a nice tube integrated amp and use it's preamp inputs.

It would also help to switch to just plain copper speaker cables. LAT's Silverfuse alloy is mixing silver with copper, which will help enhance brightness and harshness. They even talk on their website about the warmth and mellowness of copper, but they "add" the clarity and definition of silver. The silver is part of the problem. It may work alright with a tube integrated amp, but you may find that just switching to pure copper cable may help alleviate much of the harshness you are experiencing.