What is my next step to a better sound ?

I am looking for educated opinions from audiophiles that have owned are listened to systems similar to mine.

I have a Mark Levinson no.380 preamp and a ML no.334 amp with Watt Puppy 5.1 speakers,serie 7 tweeters.Arcam Rdac with Teddy Pardo power supply.Transparent plus cables and MIT shotgun xlr interconnects.

I really am not sure what component i need to change to step up the ladder towards a better HIFI sound.

Preamp ? Ml 380 S ? 326 S ? or maybe another make ?

I was suggested to change my preamp for a SPECTRAL 15

My transport is a 250$ Sony bluray player ,i dont believe that buying anything more expensive will hep with the sound ,its going through DAC anyway,correct me if you think im wrong.

I listen to Bluaudio and SACD SHM.
The rDAC is easily the bottleneck in the system. It's a great DAC for the money, but it just doesn't belong in your system IMO.

I really like the rDAC. It's outclassed by the rest of your gear.
Transports do matter too.
So the whole digital area of your setup needs to be updated. Now I should talk as i use cheap stuff compared to my analog stuff. But i also use an expensive ($4,000 retail) tube buffer to fix the digital.
i would look (if I was you) a good quality CD player/multi disc player to replace your digital front end.
ditto Elizabeth and Kbarkamian!
As you may know, there are many threads on audiogon on source vs. speakers. Even articles in past audiophile publications where CEO's of Wilson Loudspeakers and Linn debate the question. I believe both have a very valid point. Ignore one, and you will not get the most out of your system. I argue there has to be a balance, and it is definitively tipped in your case. Given that you listen mostly to blue audio and SACD, I would strongly consider the newest offerings from Oppo (BDP-95), or used Modwright modified (or by other established modders like EVS) Oppo BDP 83SE. You would be in for a real treat.
Do not change your preamp for a Spectral. Besides creating a mismatch if you ever need service on the Spectral you will have to deal with Spectral and to me it's not worth it.

You need to upgrade your CD player. To match your system you could consider a Mark Levinson or Audio Research CD player. Either one will breathe some life into your system.
IMO transports are as important as DACs, maybe more so.
I agree with 4est, the transport quality is absolutely crucial if you want good /improved digital sound. The belief that" any old transport will do" as long as the DAC is good is`nt supported by reality.
Your pre-amp is definately not the problem. I use a 380S with Watt/Puppy 8's and Pass Labs XA-100.5 amps. Your digital source is probably the problem. If you want a great balanced sounding system for digital for a resonable cost, PS Audio Perfect Wav Trans and DAC is the way to go ($6K). Very little listening fatigue...sounds smooth and detailed.

If you really want to hear the ultimate potential of your system, buy an analog front end (turntable).
IMO, transport is NOT important. I've migrated to a computer wireless based system for years and no looking back. Yes it sounds different with transports but definitely NOT better. As long as the buffer in the DAC is large enough, it should not matter.
05-24-11: Knghifi
As long as the buffer in the DAC is large enough, it should not matter.

as long as the buffer is big enough which usually isn't the case with most DAC's. Memory "buffered" transports do make a difference...
as long as the buffer is big enough which usually isn't the case with most DAC's. Memory "buffered" transports do make a difference...
Rockitman (Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Get a DAC with a large enough buffer?

I don't want to hijack this thread or start another debate but IMO, it doesn't matter how the data gets in the buffer, data is data. When was the last time anyone ran their browser or MS Word from a CD drive? Best solution is load all or just the current track in memory before play. It's more efficient and flexible to execute a program in memory.
Useless to discuss changing anything until you say what you think the current deficiencies in the sound are and what you are wanting to hear that you do not currently.

Have the people indicating the DAC is the problem actually heard it? I have not, so can't say, but Arcam in tandem with DCS has done some good things with their DACs over the years.

If the SOny transport is operating properly, I would not expect much if any difference changing that, but anything is possible in regards to jitter with any specific device and how it conencts to the DAC.

If you have any other CD ready devices with digital out, it might be worth trying them and compare.

Or, ripping to computer and playing back via a Logitech Squeezebox Touch or similar device is a high quality, quite reliable solution I have found.
Useless to discuss changing anything until you say what you think the current deficiencies in the sound are and what you are wanting to hear that you do not currently.

I don't entirely agree with this statement. Sometimes, especially at the level of performance of the bulk of the gear the OP is using, you aren't aware of potential upgrades in SQ until you actually hear the difference it can make to swap out components for better ones (or ones with better synergy to the ones you have). I would also hazard to guess many folks here just upgrade to strive for something even better than they have, without even having a particular complaint about it. That said, certainly, if there is a specific complaint, it would help others speculate on what to change, and on that level I do agree with the statement.

Other than that, I'd agree with others who've pointed the finger to the front end components. Transports can make a difference. Going to well-implemented PC audio can open up a world of listening potential to you. Since I went to a computer storage library and software interface I listen to a greater variety of music and listen more often. So I'd also agree with MapMan's recommendation of ripping your library via a good ripping software (NOT iTunes) in a lossless format (AIFF, ALAC, FLAC) to your PC, and use an interface like the SB Touch (use an Ethernet cable to your computer for the best results) to a good DAC via SPDIF (I'm not familiar with your DAC to make any comment there - but DACs have come a long way in the past 10 years). This has the potential to sound as good as, or better than spinning physical discs on your transport. You will probably wonder why you didn't do this long ago.

The other huge potential for opening up another world is adding a vinyl front end, but that's a whole other ball of wax, and you may not want to deal with all the related expenses and hassles of vinyl playback. You also may simply not hear it as an improvement over digital for a number of reasons. I personally do hear it as superior in some ways, but don't want the hassle (proper setup and tweaking of rig, constant cleaning and care of LP's and stylus, much more delicate handling of all aspects of playback and related degree of patience which I don't have, storage of LP's). Though LP's sound better to me, it's not to a large enough degree that I'm willing to put up with the detractors, but you might feel different as many others do. If so, that can definitely offer some degree of improvement as well as offering up a library of inexpensive (assuming you enjoy garage sales and thrift shopping) and sometimes otherwise unavailable music.
Jax2, I totally agree with your take. Once you set up a server/DAC it makes it so much easier over loading CDs. I run a Squeezebox into my Bel Canto DAC3 via SPDIF and can't tell the difference over my BelCanto CD1 used as a transport via AES/EBU, doing a direct A/B comparison, switching between sources. I rip all my collection to FLAC files using dB Poweramp, which finds all the metadata online and also makes sure the rips are bit perfect. I also use a music server using SqueezeCenter (Squeezebox software) run off a Netgear ReadyNAS duo. Everything is wireless in my setup--have not run the hardwired connection as Jax suggests above, but so far my own ears cannot hear the difference using my own hardwired transport CD player. Data is data and if your DAC is good, it will decode the data and present it as intended, no matter the source.

Squeezebox is great for the online radio stations--thousands all across the globe, at various quality levels. But I can get my local adult alternative NPR station at broadcast quality and I listen to it all the time all through my house as well as on my main system.

Of course, once I got all this set up, I then went analog, but that's a whole other story. But now I have the best of both worlds, and it keeps it interesting and allows me to find all sorts of music to listen to, and that's really why we all do this.
One thing that hasn't yet been mentioned is that if your connection between the Blu-Ray player and the RDAC is via digital coax, the LENGTH of the cable can be a significant factor. It should either be very short, less than say 12 inches, or it should be 1.5 meters or a little longer. See this paper.

Use of intermediate cable lengths, such as 1 meter or 3 feet, can worsen jitter by causing waveform reflections resulting from impedance mismatches to arrive at the DAC input at critical points on the signal (i.e., near the mid-point of its 0 to 1 or 1 to 0 transitions).

Use of non-optimal cable lengths is most likely ONE reason for reports of sonic differences between transports. Different transports will have different degrees of impedance mismatch to the cable and connectors, and perhaps more significantly will have different transition times (risetimes and falltimes). If a non-optimal (intermediate) length is used, the effects of impedance inaccuracies will vary unpredictably depending on the relation between cable length and signal rise and fall times, and also on the jitter rejection capability of the particular DAC.

-- Al
I've heard the rDAC. I heard it burned in and warmed up against the Rega DAC that I bought which was fresh out of the box and cold (my dealer and I unsealed it). The Rega DAC beat it hands down. There was nothing the rDAC did that the Rega DAC didn't do at a higher level. That wasn't the only DAC I heard during that audition, but I gave it a significant chance, as I wanted to save some cash.

The rDAC is excellent for the money. If that was all my budget would allow, I'd be very content with it. That being said, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and the rDAC just flat out isn't in the same league as the rest of his system.

I've heard the rDAC several times since. It mops the floor with anything at or under it's price that I've heard. But it can't hang with a Levinson system/Wilson system. It's like putting a VW GTI engine in a Porsche 911 Turbo.
Your preamp, amplifier cables and speakers are solid. These components are the bones of any system and tend to have much better longevity than digital because they do not evolve as quickly as digital.

The semiconductor industry responsible for all that digital stuff operates in a 12 month cycle known as "Moore's Law". Moore's law (google Gordon E. Moore) essentially states that transistor count doubles and price halves every 12 months. This has been the case since 1965 when Mr. Moore authored his law. While this may or may not be interesting, it means that semiconductor companies constantly churn new products to take advantage of manufacturing cost reductions and product performance improvements.

It takes much less time to fall behind the digital technology curve than in analog technology. The vacuum tube is Exhibit A as an example of analog staying power. These technology curves should be a consideration for all future system purchases. Think long term for amps, preamps and speakers but think Moore’s Law (short term) when it comes to digital and adjust your return on investment calculation accordingly.

All things can be improved, but in your system the digital provides the biggest opportunity for improvement. It could be as simple as upgrading the power supply to your rDAC but that’s pretty tweaky. There are a lot of really good DACs in the $1K to $2K price range that will noticeably improve your system and you can do it all over again in about 12 to 18 months.

But then you might start noticing a difference in transports... :)

I was thinking about this around one year ago. I was trying to find a better source for digital playback thinking that the source was the most important component to make the best upgrade to the next level. Well is does matter very much but what happened to me was that someone brought over a preamp that turned my system around completely. Since that time I have compared the preamp to manny of the typical manufactured preamps but none of them could get me to the next level. It happens to be a DIY preamp so it is not currently available on the market yet. So take my comments as you will but I could have never gotten there with a better source.

Happy Listening.
Your base system is a wonderful system. I see two maybe three areas where there may be problems with sound reproduction. 1) CD Transport, 2) DAC, 3) Room

The inexpensive CD transport you are using is an issue. I have compared many transports into the same DAC/system and there are widespread differences in the sound. You should borrow better transports and hear the differences.

The DAC also made a major difference to me. I have also compared many DACs and they really do make a major difference. The power supplies in the DACs are the major weak point. The Analog output portion in DACs are similar to pre-amps and if the power supplies are not really beefed up, they will not sound good.

The room may require major corrections for bass or mid level or high frequency sound corrections and reflections. My main problem in my system is the room.

As a side note,you do not need to purchase stupidly expensive CD transport or DACs. There are some out there used that are incredible. For example, Pioneer Elite's DVD 09 CD players is one of the best constructed and wonderful transports (not CD player) that I have ever heard and I have compared it with many other much more expensive transports. It is built like a tank and seriously overbuilt. The Digital output of this unit rivals the best out there and you can get one for a steal used.

The used Theta DS Pro-Gen V DAC is wonderful and is very hard to beat by other DACs and relatively inexpensive used.

I have had many come by my home to hear their music on this transport and DAC combination and they left with jaws open.

People upgrade DVD players because they want newer bells and whistles, such as HDMI outputs. However, if you are using it solely as a CD transport, then wow!

I have compared them with newer more expensive DACs and CD player/transports and again, pioneer elite in the day was the state of the art in many areas. Don't overlook this relatively inexpensive but definitely high-end used combo.

There are others out there also, but find a friend or shop that is willing to let you borrow a demo CD player and/or DAC and to take it home for a week or so to listen, then make an informed decision.

As an owner of a set of WP 5.1's (albeit with WP8 drivers and parts) and as a former owner of ML gear.... my suggestion would be to ditch your current digital (yes, that includes the transport) and buy yourself a great CDP. Though I rarely like to plug gear that I own on the forums, I'd strongly encourage you to get an AMR CD777 and be done with it.
"It's like putting a VW GTI engine in a Porsche 911 Turbo".
Right. But if on the other hand you put Porsche Turbo engine in VW you will be dead in no time.
On the subject. Yes, of course this digital front end begs to be upgraded. Possibly cables too but I can't be sure.
Thansport is very important, sometimes probably just as important as DAC or even more. And the connection between them.
How much are you prepared to spend? How about older CEC belt drive transport(get the new belt) and Dodson DAC or something like that? Or older Sony top of the line SACD? Many to choose from, in fact.
I wouldn't touch Levinson/Wilson for now if ever.
The thing that bothers me about the Rdac is the name. It seems to be designed to capitalize on Arcam's use of the highly acclaimed DCS ring dac technology in one or two of their legacy devices, but that is not what is used in the rDac. Their web site references the relationship with DCS and the use of other DCS technology in the rdac, but not the ring dac itself which I believe is DCS's crowning achievement.

I do not think it is good business strategy for DCS to license their bread and butter technologies to companies offering products at a fraction of the cost. That's probably why the Ring DAC is not available in any Arcam gear anymore.