Weak Link

Currently running Rotel RCD971 w/a modded Sugden A48b and Rega Ara speakers on sand filled Target stands (ecosse speaker cables. MIT interconnects)

I realize it is not the most resolving system in the world, but beyond that, there is something that is not quite right about the way in which the music is presented.

of the items listed above, i'm inclined to believing the CD player is the weak link.

As it stands, the sound is ok, however somewhat lifeless. There is a lack of body in the lower midrange and something about the higher registers seems somewhat off as well...Cymbals do not seem to shimmer as they should, for example, sounding somewhat...unnatural? edgy, yet dull at the same time? Difficult to describe.

I'm looking for more midrange/ low midrange presence and detail, silkier highs, yet with good extension and more 'bounce' to get my toes tapping along more readily.

Any thoughts on what my first step should be in terms of component upgrade, assuming only one item can be changed at a time (with relatively lengthy intervals)? As mentioned earlier, I feel a cd player upgrade will help quite a bit, but i'm not certain. I state my uncertainty bc not long ago, i brought my amp to a local store that happened to also have a rotel rcd971. We connected a pair of Monitor Audio GS10's to that setup and they were much more open, clear and punchy than my Rega Aras. Having said that, could it simply be the Ara's are not to my liking? btw - of course, i do realize the Monitor Audio's are far more expensive than my Regas.

Obviously, i'm at a bit of a loss and do not want to make an incorrect decision, as unfortunately, as much as i don't want to admit it, funds are very tight at the moment.

thanks people!
you could try wire swapping, buy used sell if they are not right - you know the drill

maybe Gabriel Gold Revelation IC and Alpha Core MI2 Goertz speaker wire, both are full of life - ymmv
So you are saying that in the dealer showroom you listened to your amp and a cd player that was the same model as yours, and they sounded much better. Given that, and given that usually the most significant determinants of overall sound quality and character are the speakers, the room, and the placement of the speakers in the room, it seems pretty clear to me that you should focus on speakers/room/placement.

I'll add that I still have a Rotel RCD-855, ca. 1992, which I suspect is not particularly dissimilar to your RCD-971, and it provides gorgeous sound with well engineered recordings (albeit through far more expensive electronics and speakers).

-- Al
Speakers are almost always the weak link. Should be nothing wrong with your player especially relative to your speakers. I'd also consider a good subwoofer to support the stand mount speakers. I'd probably add a sub first. That "lack of body" will likely vanish.
...what Phil said...
You still have a lot of variables between the showroom setup & yours at home, so who can say.
I am also wondering about cabling; did you bring your own or use dealer supplied? And unless it was all the same makes/models, then that's something else you need to question when making comparisons. Also what about AC line conditioning?
Perhaps you should experiment along those lines so your comparisons have better validity.
And while you're at it, try some experimenting with cabling changes as well. Cables ARE components in themselves, and can sometimes greatly affect the sonic signature of any rig. Many listeners tend to overlook this phenomenon because it is not always readily understood, or even acknowledged.

I've tried several types of speaker cable at this point and the ones that work best are the ecosse, which seem to tighten things up and make the higher frequencies more extended.

I also do own a sub, albeit an inexpensive one as well. I've painstakingly set it up so it blends the best that it can (it's an energy ESW-V8).

Further, I'm aware that speakers make the most obvious difference in sound, but there are, as we all know, tons of people who are in the source first camp.

I suspect i'm expecting too much from the ARAs, but at the same time, one of my dealers tells me to 'lose the shitty Rotel source'.

(btw - the Rotel bettered current models from NAD that cost as much now as the rotel did back then... not that I feel NAD is fantastic or anything... I'm simply saying the Rotel still holds its own. Mind you, i've never been 100% happy with the Rotel either, even when I used it in conjunction with an MSB Nelson DAC w/ upconversion, a unison research unico and a variety of speakers ranging from NHT 2.5i's to StudioLab Reference 1s to Neat Mystique IIs).

Ok... to simplify my question: If i were to spend, say, $1500, would it be wiser to invest in a HQ, high resolution CD player that is known for good PRaT? (say, a Naim cd5i mkII) or a similarly priced, more open and more revealing set of speakers?
a guess...the speakers
If i were to spend, say, $1500, would it be wiser to invest in a HQ, high resolution CD player that is known for good PRaT? (say, a Naim cd5i mkII) or a similarly priced, more open and more revealing set of speakers?

Obviously there will be divergent opinions on this, but as I suggested in my previous post I would vote for the speakers. That seems to me to simply be a matter of common sense, supported also by my own experience with an even earlier generation Rotel CDP played back through a far more expensive system.

I always take dealer recommendations with several large grains of salt.

-- Al
as welll as the speakers, could be some problem in the room itself that needs correction this does make quite a difference! You might also consider that and where your speaker placement is and on & on...
it's time for you to try tube amplification.

I don't think the Ara's can give you what you want. I also feel the Rotel Cd player is thin and edgy. For $1,500 bucks, you may be able to upgrade both. May I suggest B&W 685 speakers ($600 - I have a pair and they're wonderful for the money, and sure to blow away the Aras). With the $900 bucks left over, I would of course try the Rotel with those speakers, but you can either get a used Benchmark Dac to go with the Rotel, or by a nice, used CD player here on 'gon. I do feel you have much room for somewhat painless upgrading. Enjoy the ride. It is fun.
I picked up a nice CD971 locally on Craigslist and I thought it was great, with the blackgates and HDCD decoding. Nice black background, smooth transport, and quickly reads discs. 20 bit burr browns are nice. But it seemed flat, with the cymbals decaying too quickly. I went to a Kimber Silver streak for ICs and it made a big difference. But then I said, what the heck, let's go for broke. I bought a barely used BelCanto CD1 here a couple weeks ago and man, what a difference in resolution, detail, bass definition, overall cohesion of soundstage, you name it. Such a smooth, close to analog sound. You can tell when you are listening to a well recorded CD for sure. 24 bits and complete balanced outputs and discrete analog outputs vs. 20 bits, op amps, and older technology in the Rotel? Close but no cigar. I still have both hooked up and even my wife could tell the difference. Nuff said. She has no idea what I do with this hobby but she does enjoy the music. The rotel does not have near the cohesion or musicality. Bass is good but artificial. But it can be a lot of other factors. I was one who always thought the source wasn't as big a deal as amp or speakers but it does make a big difference. Cables do too. the system is what matters--the synergy. Good luck and have fun trying some different stuff.
Almarg, I suspect you're mostly correct in that i simply need more capable speakers.

I may try to find a used pair of GR10's or even GS10s, if possible without breaking the bank. I wonder if Epos M12.2's would get me there, at less of a cost... Perhaps i'll hold off on getting a new source just yet.

Cerrot, I second your thoughts on the ARAs. Despite it being a decent, litte speaker, it is nothing to write home about. I am not a fan of B&W, however, but I appreciate the suggestion (perhaps i should give B&W another chance, however in the past, every time i've done so, i've been disappointed. Further, I used to own an MSB Link DAC III w/ half nelson upgrade and upsampling board (which i never used because it just smoothed things out too much). Trouble was, the DAC was soooo problematic that after i had it fixed for the third time within a year and a bit, i sold it.

To both swanny and cerrot, I agree with both of your comments on the sound of the Rotel. It's ok, but is just lacking life, somehow. I do not,however, want to go w/ the transport/ DAC route any longer- i'd simply prefer a good, one-box solution.

Finally, yes, the room is definitely part of the problem. My old system, consisting of a Unico, rotel w/ aformentioned DAC and Neat Mystiques was phenomenal at my old condo, but in this new place, it became very soft and mushy sounding w/ bloated bass. 180 degree difference from how it sounded at the other condo, where everything was very clear, clean, defined and the sound just 'floated' so nicely. I didn't appreciate the sound I had at that time, as, in hindsight, i was being too picky, but I long to get back to that type of smooth, clean, yet detailed and airy presentation.

Having said that, I have taken many steps to get the best placement possible and I believe I have done the best that I can, given the small size of the condo, the equipment being 'lesser' than my old gear and a variety of other factors.

I think i'm going to look into better speakers first, then move on to a better CD player a bit later.

Thanks for your suggestions once again, guys.
Loose, I saw a pair of Totem Rain Forests here the other day. Price was $600 or $700 - can't remember. Retail is over $1,000. I have heard these and they are awesome little speakers. Just a suggestion. Regret I don't have a CD player recommendation for you in that price range. I have huge issues with digital and have found that decent sounding CD players under a few grand are few and far between, if exist at all-though I do have a very revealing system so may not be a fair statement). (That's why I suggested the Dac as you get a very good sound for a decent price). Have fun with your search.
Loose, which B & W's have you tried? If you can stop by a dealer and hear the 685, you really should. I have not heard anything this good for the price.
Cerrot, did you mean Totem Rainmakers or Totem Forests? Must be the Rainmakers, based on the price you mentioned.

(although i do like the name 'Rain Forest' for some reason lol)
It was Rainmaker. I heard them at The Show a few years back and was awed at the room filling, great sound, detail, width and depth to the soundstage. They were on my list for speakers for my PC system. I ended up going with the 685s for two reasons - (okay three, 3rd is they sounded good) 1st is my dealer carried them and 2nd was price. I listen (to my PC system) in the near field (they're next to my PC monitor). I shouldn't really cmpare the two as the Totems were connected to a pretty expensive high end system. My PC system isn't very high end (Cayin A50T, Music Fidelity VDAC3 w/PSU). It's my 3rd system so just didn't want to go for the bucks. The Rainmakers really, really impressed me, though I wouldn't change (now) the 685's for the Rainmakers. The Rainmakers here are $685, and new.