Upgrade Path: CDP or Preamp

I'm a little perplexed. I've got the upgrade bug and I'm not sure how to proceed. I would like to augment my system by replacing either the CDP or the preamp. I'm not sure which one will improve the system's sound the most and give me the best sonic improvement for my money. I, of course, can replace one then the other, but which one should I replace first? For auguments sake my budget is around 1000 bucks for either component. I love jazz and of course a variety of current and classic rock. I mostly listen to cd's but I do have a turntable and a bunch of albums (these are less convenient to use since they've been relegated to the basement). I also use the tuner quite a bit for backround listening (the tuner in my preamp is poor, but I have a classic Mitsubishi analog tuner in another system I would use when I replaced the preamp). Overall the sound is good, minus the tuner. I know it can be better. Any suggestions would be welcome. Thanks in advance for your responses.

My system:
Denon DCM 370 changer sitting on a set of Vibrapods
Music Hall MMF 7 TT w/ Goldring Eroica Cartridge
Creek OBH 8SE MM phono preamp
B&K PT3 preamp/tuner
Odyssey Stratos amp w/ cap upgrade
Van Den Hul D102 III IC's connecting cdp to pre to amp
Monster something or other connecting phono pre to preamp
Monster 12 gauge speaker wire.
My feelings are the PREAMP as THE most important component in a system. It will imprint its "signature" on all components and more importantly, if it is an upgrade, afford you the better opportunity to evaluate the shortcomings of your source material. Decide what type of features and sound you are shooting for (tube vs. ss) in your price range, since for 1000, its not the ultimate in neutrality and then consider used vs. new...

Used suggestions: CJ, Audible Illusions, Quicksilver... (yes a bias towards tubes, pun semi-intended)

New? Start looking.........
Your cd player is your weakest link. Buy a stock jolida 100 for $900 new, saving the last hundred for tubes that will perfect your front end. You can write me for where to get the tubes.
I think you should go for the CD player first. That pre-amp might suprise you.
I got a real crappy Pre-amp, and a "Decent" amp, and some crappy speakers.
The only thing that makes it listenable is the Panasonic DV-A7 DVD-A player. Best CD player ive ever owned.

WHen i hook any other CDP up it sounds like straight crap!

definatly CD player.
I second the CDP recommendation. Jolida 100, Music Hall CD25, Rega Planet 2000 (not Jupiter) and perhaps CEC CD3300 (new at Audio Advisor, CEC makes good gear) can be good candidates.
I have your CD player in my bedroom system and it's a fairly good product. Changing it won't result in any major improvement in your system. As a matter of fact, your system is very well balanced with no glaring weak link. You really would be better off not chaning anything and instead focusing on perfecting your speaker positioning and other related setup issues. Read this other posting call The Power of Positioning to get some ideas.

If you must change something, then focus on your cables and possible a power conditioner. And you don't have to spend alot of money. Good quality cables do not have to be expensive! Try a place like the Cable Co. which allows you to sample a large selection of products before you buy.

Best of luck!
I agree with the Jolida CDP very good choice.
Something to think about would be a cd with a volume control and giving up on lp for a while (assuming you are not listening to them).

You could get a used resolution audio cd 50 or 55 for around $1000, with analog volume. When you get the cash you could use it into the preamp.

Short of that I vote for a better pre, adcom 750 or acurus R11 maybe? or if you don't need remote the odyssey tempest, or a morrison audio elad (world class crazy good for the price ~$800)

What you really need is a pre with a built in DAC to improve the cd sound but analog voulume control and 2 analog sources....


Could work for you.

I agree that the CDP is the thing to change first. Changers are sonic compromises in my experience. The precision of the transport is hard to maintain when joined to a changer mechanism. This means the correction circuits work extra hard in a changer, with consequences for power management and more.

Most changer buyers are not interested in paying a lot for mechanical integrity. The high end changer is a hard disk system : Linn, etc.

The Music Hall 25 ( a Shanling ) or the new Shanling CD-S100 II would be fun to listen to in your price range. I don't know the Jolida but a lot of people like it.

Once you've gotten used to your new source, continue the upgrades downstream--so the preamp is next in line. Then, if you get itchy and need to change something while you look for an amp, you could try a new IC between CDP and preamp... at least, that's how I would shop for cables. ( I would never try to stabilize a system's sound with cables until I was sure the major components were what I wanted. )

Have fun !
Sorry to be persistent, but I went through your same scenario years ago...and tried players (after turntables from the decade prior) and preamps in my system.... you may be very suprised what you find....

A good preamp will create a soundstage, enhance harmonic texture, present more detail (hopefully in a musical and seductive way) and on and on to make your system more enjoyable. I agree with one poster's comment, your CDP is adequate. The truth is you could pick up a used CJpv12 of Audible Illusions 3 line stage for 850 and decent used player for 400 (choices abound) to make a grand total of 1250 for INCREDIBLE improvement.

The speakers also are significant. I became a MAJOR tinkerer after I got the preamp and realized the stuff I was missing, immediately upgrading my other items in my then budget speakers...with a little help from Madisound, etc...

Finally, as for the direct cd to amp idea...I did that as well with a Sony ES player...forget it...the volume is in the digital domain and this comes with caveats, specifically the truncating of bits at lower volumes......until full gain and bits are realized...

Also, careful amp and CDP matching are required for this idea...your amps are your strong point, your preamp and CDP are fine, but not nearly in the same league....

Borrow a used tube preamp from a friend, etc...(not vintage unit, but a modern one) and see what you think. Do the same for the CD player. I did, and that's how I came to my conclusions...incidentally, since beginning this process I have upgraded everything till about a year+ ago and have changed NOTHING. The preamp, is still the same.

Sorry to be too opionated.
The Denon is a solid unit. Why not try a d/a converter. I think the denon has a digital out? You can get a nice little d/a for $250 to $500. Using the denon with a d/a would equal many $1000 players for less money and give you some flexibility.
Tobias is right about the pre amp. It needs to go too. However, the tubed Jolida will do wonders with your overall sound. And it may be the last cdp you will need to buy. Because it works it's magic with tubes, you needn't rush out to get an old tube pre-amp.

The first time I plugged a Jolida cdp (old 601) in place of my Sony ES changer, I was running it through Bryston.4b and a B&K amp. The transformation was miraculous.

I have changed the pre-amp, amp, and speakers several times since then. I still have a Jolida cdp, though.

".forget it...the volume is in the digital domain "

Just for the record, I agree...I only like good analog volume controled cd player like the Resolution players or monarchy audio DACs.

One thing to mention is that Pre-amps tend to make good used buys...fewer moving parts.

Good luck...you probalby have too many ideas now.
In your case, the Denon has to go first. The source is more important. A better preamp would only let you hear how really bad the Denon is.
"I am listening". Good advice, people. Some contrary opinions. I need to weigh these. I AM enjoying parsing through the feedback, though. Don't know what I want to do, yet. I am leaning towards a new CDP and the Jolida intrigues me. I don't have the opportunity to listen prior to buying one of these.

I also don't have the opportunity to swap out components w/ friends. Hard to believe, but I personally don't know anyone w/ a system as good as mine. I'm going in blind, to some extent. I did w/ the Creek, the Music Hall and the Stratos.

Keep 'em coming boys and girls. This is almost as much fun as slapping in a new disk and turning up the volume (until my wife turns it down, that is).
Here's another opinion. I've owned a fair amount of B&K stuff, which is pretty good but not nearly at the level of some of the other stuff that's been mentioned here. Somebody mentioned a CJ - something like a PV12 can be had for well under $1000 used, and can really give you a boost.

I don't know much about that CDP, but the Jolida gets good reviews from almost all quarters.
I am not sure I understand. The jolida will not put your mmf7/goldring to shame, (in fact, it may not match it) therfore if you purchase a cd player would you have really upgraded if you already own a source which would basically shame most CD players?

In general, the same dollars spent to upgrade an analog rig yields more bang for buck than digital. If you aren't happy with the mmf AND cdp, then truly, you have to ask yourself what about your system is it that you are unsatisfied with and go from there......

I thinks you are unsatisified with your system regardless of your source...and that's why you have the bug.....

Maybe a DIY pre-amp tube kit on the cheap or perhaps EVS attenuators on the back of the amp as a passive setup (rick shultz of EVS would even impedance match the devices as best he could for you)

If you were local I'd lend you a DPA Bigger Bit dac I have for sale and let you hook it up to your CDP just for kicks to see if this approach is worth your while....

Hey, another thing, your preamp is still a tuner, even with a preamp upgrade......

BORROW or Purchase a used unit always in demand and it will cost you little to experiment. Unless your married, then it could cost you big time.
I always argue that a person should start at the source and work back to the speakers.

You will realize the improvement in sound by getting a better pre-amp, but you will not be getting more signal off of the CDs.

Buy the best source you can afford so you will be getting the best possible signal. When you upgrade other pieces later you will learn how much they were restricting the signal. When you buy a new pre-amp you will get better sound especially in the range you are operating now. The bigger improvement though will be experienced with the CDP upgrade.

Personally I would spend $1000 on a cartridge for the Turntable! But that's just me.
Synergy, synergy, synergy! Ditch the pre-amp and replace it with an Odyssey Tempest. It's the perfect match for your Stratos. With a few more dollars you can upgrade your DAC or get a Music Hall CD25, they are always popping up.
Hi everyone. I am not dissatisfied w/ my TT. This is a keeper, sounds fine. Although, ergonomically, it's a little funky (it sits on only 3 feet and tends to tip when I lift up the dust cover). I'm really thinking along the lines of upgrading the CDP and preamp. If the new preamp has a phono section, fine, I can sell the creek. I'm not sure how good the Creek is, it's supposed to have a good rep, though. I have nothing to compare it too.

Still listening, and thanks.
I would recommend upgrading the CDP. One option might be to mod your Denon to make it a good transport and then purchase a modded DAC, such as the Perpetual P-3A or Musical Fidelity. You should be in the $1500 range to do this right. This combo will blow-away any stock CDP.

Finding a decent preamp is a more difficult thing to do. Even some of the best are still lacking in dynamics and extension. I use a heavily modified Mark Levinson #38.
Resolution (temporary?)
Man, did I catch hell last night. I came home w/ a new Rotel RCD1072. My wife just glowered at me. Why did I pick the Rotel? It was available new in my area and not overly expensive (about 630 bucks). It is well built and got some good reviews. One needs to balance performance, WAF and $$$. The dealer, Spearitsound in Boston, has plenty of high end equipment ($75,000 for a pair of Siltech 80 w/ch tube monoblocks?), but I knew I wasn't going to spend the $1500 for the Cary 308, among others. So I settled for this one. Initial impressions are good. It is definitely smoother than my Denon, but subtilely so. I'll need a good week to really evaluate the unit. Time will tell.

Thanks all for responding.

Is a DAC in the future?
I'd start by getting a new CDP. There are some really nice units for a grand these days. Then move on to the preamp....but your cd player should be swapped out first.
Congratulations on your new Rotel. It should give you and your wife more pleasure than the Denon... but not, of course, if she's too mad to listen.

My experience is that differences initially perceived as subtle come to be more and more important, and that wives have better hearing than husbands but won't admit it.

BTW, those subtle differences let your ears relax so you can pay less attention to the sound and more to the music. Wives hate sound but love music. Hope she comes round !
I loved my Rotel 971. Enjoy!!!
CDP Shootout:
Ok, after just over a week of burn in, here is my initial evaluation of the sonic changes in my system. The Rotel is definitely a subtle improvement, smoother treble and an extended bass response, better overall. This was more noticable w/ poor recordings. On good recordings, I couldn't really tell the difference.

Oddly enough, the Rotel is not as sonically quiet as the Denon (mechanically the Rotel is the clear winner, better transport, etc.). With both units powered up and not playing, I turned the preamp to maximum gain and switched back and forth between the two. The Denon was as quiet as any source input on the preamp w/o anything hooked up. The Rotel emitted a noticable electronic hiss. It disappeared when I turned the Rotel off. Do I care about this? I'd like some feedback if possible.

As a tube and vinyl lover with a low-output moving coil cartridge (therefore, enormous amounts of gain), I can't say I mind much about circuit noise at max volume--especially hiss. Hum, especially 60 HZ hum, would be more worrisome.

In use, my volume control never goes past 2 o'clock. There is some noise there if I turn it up all the way, but I consider it of no significance.
Wait until your wife cools down and then buy an Anthem Pre-Amp off Audiogon, preferably one with upgraded tubes. They are a great deal, sometimes around $500. I think that you'll like the tube soundstage. If not, you can always sell it.
If you can go a little higher than $500, there's a Klyne SK-5A for sale here at $695. It would keep you happy a long time. When your bank account is healthy again, a Klyne would be a good catch. With respect to Pmi_guy, even better than an Anthem, IMHO.

Stan Klyne still services the SK-5A, even though some parts are no longer available.
I can tell you that either would have given you improvements. Looks like a speaker wire improvement is in order for that system too.

Personally I went with the Arcam cd73t and it was a clear improvement in my system. I like rotel but it can be a bit uninvolving and sterile. I had the same choice to make and I chose to upgrade the cdp and have never looked back.
Congrats on your Rotel purchase. I believe the Rotel that you have has a detachable cord. When your wife cools down you might try an aftermarket cord. Better shielding and grounding may help decrease the noise and increased transmission of power may help the correction circuitry.

Just a thought.
Thanks everyone. I appreciate the repsonses and suggestions.
Speaker wire suggestions anyone? I was considering this myself.