what is the weakest link in my audio chain

Would like to get some advice on the next best upgrade to the following setups. Music playbacks are very important here.

paradigm studio 40 v2 for fronts
paradigm studio center v2
paradigm studio 20 v2 for rears
Hsu VTF3 MKII as sub
Arcam av8
Bryston 9bst
denon dvd-2910
outlaw interconnect
generic digital coax from denon to arcam
HomeDepot extension cord (10AWG) for speaker wires.
What is it about the current sound that you think could be better?
an arcam front end would be the icing on the cake, but i suspect your system sounds really good.
It sounds really, really good. But since my exposure to audio gears is very limited. I am hoping that you can use your experience and knowledge to point me to the right direction to perfect my system even more.
This is my opinion.

Replace first (top to bottom)


I don't know anything about the AV8 so can't comment on it.

Good luck
Probably the speakers but hard to say.

How much more are you thinking about investing in the system for two channel stereo?
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Kimber Kable 8tc speaker cables, and a PS Audio Quintet power conditioner. I love the Paradigms, I'm sure the set up sounds great. Mix in a Project Debut III turntable with the built in phono-pre next, you will love it.
Power conditioning for at least the front end part of your system would probably shock you. Making improvements in a system is a crap shoot at best. Thats why this is a lifelong hobby.
I agree with Larry - try a power conditioner. Also for two channel you might consider a high quality jitter immune DAC but it will depend on how much jitter you have on the Toslink (it can work well with your AV8 or it can be terrible but it it is hard to predict). I think your speakers are excellent already but you might consider moving fronts to rear and going for the 100's at some point.

FWIW - You have an excellent setup already.
Thanks for the valuable advice. looked like the next upgrade that can gives noticeable sonic improvement with minimal investment would be to use better speaker wires. After that, a power conditioner will bring me even better sonic improvement.
Room acoustic treatment will be my next DIY project.
Thanks for all of your input.
There's lots of ways you could go about changing your sound. Not knowing your acoustics and setup, changing speakers yields the most dramatic change in the electronics chain. Yes, upgrading wires is a cheap (sometimes) way to tweak your sound. That said, I'd dump the HD power cord you're using as wire, and go with HD sprinkler wire, for an imediate improvement, yes! (best sounding stuff at HD for wire, hands down!).
Still, at this point, if you are not planning a speaker swap(try-out), I'd upgrade the Bryston, as it's just an "OK" sounding amp, not so much top end, not so refined throughout, and a bit warm/fat sounding. It's same as Lexicon amp basically. Others to consider would even be Classe, Parasound, Anthem, Aragon, Krell's ok, McCormack, and other's you could try.
The pre/pro you could and should upgrade to something with newest HD codec's, and latest DSP room correction, yes, like the Audyssey processing, for superb acoustical benefits to the sound of your system.
Interconnects, I'd be defaulting to harmonic Tech Truth Link. Very neutral, clear, good detail, good dynamics, well balanced - better than the Outlaw, for $100/pr used.
And, yes, there's better speaker wires you can chose for more.
AS for your speakers, the NHT line offers some sonically more neutral, clearer, even more extended (if accurate) sounding speakers, with good dynamics. Also, the Dappolito configured speakers are nice and dynamic and strong through the upper bass midrange area, as well as re-inforcing the treble with the right crossover, for a stronger pressentation for movies and dynamic music, with better integration into a room, acoustically (less ceiling to floor reflection issues, for better detail and more solid image - all things considered. Again, I don't know your room/setup). Speakers like NHT's M5's make excellent music/ht monitors, for passive speakers for cheap. That of course, is if you're planning on experimenting with better speakers - and I would, if I were you.
In the budget speaker realm, there's lots to chose from, of course. It just must all balance with your setup, your system, your tastes, and life-style. (your Paradigms are a more traditional stereo speaker, with tweeter on top, which interacts with the ceiling more, which is not usually a strong HT/music speaker choice, with challenging acoustical issues) I would look for dual mid/woofer designs, really.
Speakers like Thiel SCS4's are more refined yet, but not as strong dynamically in a larger spacel, and they're more money.
At any rate, you need to experiment with ONE VARIABLE AT A TIME to really know what you have going on in your system, at any point. So concider. (it's a hobby if you want the most out of it....unless you get REAL REAL lucky with the first shot or two)
good luck
Thanks for the valuable advice. looked like the next upgrade that can gives noticeable sonic improvement with minimal investment would be to use better speaker wires.

FWIW: 10 AWG is more than thick enough already. I doubt you can eek much more out of speaker cables unless you can shorten them. Room Acoustic treatment would be much more productive.
Yeah, try swaping out that HD power cord you're using for speaker wires with one run of adequate length 11 conductor sprinkler wire, or two lengths per side of 7 conductor, and see what you think! Then YOU'LL know. Good luck
If yoy're happy with the sound then your Bryston amp has to be warm sounding since Paradigm Studio v2 has bright unforgiving tweeter (Vifa). One of the better bargains in speaker cables DH Labs Q10 is slightly on the bright side (silver plated in teflon) - you need to try.

Studio 40v2 is a good speaker but its amplified version is a great one. The difference is lack of speaker cable and good amplifier matching.
If yoy're happy with the sound then your Bryston amp has to be warm sounding since Paradigm Studio v2 has bright unforgiving tweeter (Vifa).

This is a popular misconception, IMHO. I have the same setup as Benqsun, except I have 60's for the fronts instead of the 40's. I've owned mine for 5-6 years and brightness has never been an issue for me.

V1 tweeters were horrible and V2 are a little better but still on the bright side - I know I have 60s v2 and recently got rid of original $25 Vifa tweeters. You might find reviews describing Paradigm v2 as neutral or crisp but you won't find single one calling them "warm sounding".

If brightness is not an issue for you - great.

This is from "Audio Ideas Guide" review of Studio 40 v2 (link in Audiogon reviews):

"The Paradigm has a slightly more forward quality, but is otherwise a very neutral reproducer. That extra on-axis energy between 5 and 7 kHz can be heard, and if it were tamed by about 2 dB, the Studio/40 would be, in my opinion, a virtually perfect dynamic loudspeaker."
I don't think I ever remember ANY Paradigm speaker I ever sold, EVER sounding bright, from my recollection. Infact, I think they're a little shy in the treble from what I remember.
And the Bryston should keep the sound mellow.
I like a little more extended amp with those speakers, really. But, experiences vary.
Personally, I think people here some setup somewhere, where they hear some tonal character, and they make assumptions! Can't tell you how many times over the years I've heard bad combo's of gear, only to have people make assumptions about one piece of equipment in the chain - as if the sound was coming from only that specific component!
Um, no, the paradigms were never bright. Infact, I dare anyone to find any reviews that describes a paradigm speaker as having a bright ANYTHING!
What do you mean? - I just posted excerpt from the "Audio Ideas Review" stating that speaker is slightly forward.

Problem with reviews is that every reviewed speaker sounds like the best in the world. Reviewers will never use words like "bright, edgy etc" but instead they hint speaker balance. In "Son Hi-Fi" review of studio 60 v2 it says:

"The overall reproduction of sound was particularly clear, which, under some circumstances, can become less pleasing, e.g., when listening to soprano voice, the high notes could sometimes seem slightly acute"

User in Paradigm Studio review posted on Audioasylum.com stated:

"They are not a forgiving speaker, but not overly bright."

That pretty much what aluminium dome tweeters do. Beryllium tweeters are way to expensive - as well as good soft dome tweeters. In addition dispersion angle of the Vifa tweeter is poor and sweet spot for listening is pretty narrow. Paradigm 60 v2 has in addition a slightly muddy midrange.

Paradigm is a very good deal for the money (since Canadian government is paying for the research) sounding better than speakers few times the cost but there is a difference between $1k, $5k and $25k speakers. Reviewers have certain expectations within given price range and if you find poor review of $25k speaker it doesn't mean that it is worse than Paradigm.

Paradagims $25 Vifa tweeter cannot and doesn't sound as clean as soft dome Morel Supreme 110 that costs 10x more (just replaced them). Sweet spot is much wider as well.
Gears only make up a fraction of the factors behind how the system can sound good. Your room system synergy and acoustic treatment (including speaker placement) is the other, and how much you know about music is the third.
I have listened to hi-end gears with total retail price in $150,0000 range; however, I can't say it sound bad, but doesn't sound what it is worth.

Many audiophiles also overlook the importance of AC polority. With correct AC polarity going into all your gears, it is surprised to see the improvement it gives. Work on the polority first, then speaker placement and finally consider change gears.
You might find reviews describing Paradigm v2 as neutral or crisp but you won't find single one calling them "warm sounding".

Good, because I don't want a warm sounding speaker, I want one that's neutral.
Benqsun: I don't see any weak links in your system. If your really want an upgrade to have a noticeable improvement look to your main speakers. But the Paradigms are nice speakers and if you like their sound you would be hardpressed to do better. I would spend more time defining precisely what it is that you find lacking before I started picking an item to upgrade. The items I would not even consider changing are the last three you listed. "Upgrading" those items is not upgrading.
How happy are you with the denon player;maybe modding,replacing or even using a external d/a would result in increased low level detail and microdynamics if that is your goal.
Thanks for your inputs.
Before I put up this thread, I have already had something in my mind. I thought you would recommend me replacing the Denon, the speakers, and doing acoustic treatment to the room as the first steps to get a noticeable sonic improvement.
Looks like many of you think my setup is decent. To get better sound than this setup will cost a lot more.
Rleff, without putting another DVD players into my system to do a comparison with the Denon, I do not know how to answer your question. Dealer demo, in my opinion, is not reliable because the rest of the systems are a lot different between mine, or the other dealers. How do I know the sound improvement, or the lack of, is not because of the effects of the rest of the components? I would rather trust Audiogoner's opinions about a particular component. If the majority of you recommend the component, then it it a safe bet that this particular component is worth considering.
My thoughts were just to try another source if your were interested,denon makes a very nice product designed for performance at certain price point;modding the unit,going new or using a seperate external d/a would give you some areas to think about trying.
If replacing: a dealers audition in your system would be the best comparsion,lastly the external d/a is a route I took once and it worked out very nicely as there are always several higher level d/a's for sale on this site;letting you move up to the next level.
You said that the problem with trying other components was that the rest of the dealer's system wouldn't necessarily match yours. If you deal with a decent A/V retailer (not BB and CC) most will allow you to take any specific component home to try in your system in your listening room. They'll usually write it up as a sale on your credit card just as insurance that you'll return the unit in the time specified. Once you develop a relationship, even that restriction usually disappears.

I too had an ageing sytem that needed upgrading and I wasn't sure where the best bang for my buck would be. By trying a couple things, I quickly could hear that, for my system, the biggest improvement came form a substantial upgrade in my souce player. Good luck, but be forwarned, upgrading is infectious.

I tried a few dealers but none of them was willing to let me bring an item home for audition, even though I promised that if I like the item I will buy it. They insisted that I buy one and if not satisfied, take it back for an exchange for better (more expensive) ones.
My pocket is not deep so most of my gears are bought here or from ebay. That may be the reason why I do not have any established relations with any of the dealers around me.
I wish audio manufactures adopt the model set by outlaw audio, who lets you try their gears free for a month and return it back for a full refund if not satisfied.
"I tried a few dealers but none of them was willing to let me bring an item home for audition, even though i promissed that if I like the item I will buy it." (Benqsun)

Alright here's a little insight from someone who's worked in a few high end audio stores over the years.
I think what you're experiencing is that retailers have learned over the decades, that home auditions are about 95% BOOMERANGS! Auditions, with no strings attached, DO NOT work! - And the product is MOST ALWAYS destined to come back to the store. Why? Because any audio enthusiasts who's interested in experimenting with his system, will continue to do just that! - EXPERIMENT! And he'll be on to the next line of products he's considering to see what else is out there. That IS the way it happens, regardless of what any customer may tell you up front.
Why would someone running a business, that's already extremely difficult to keep profitable, offer a "try-out service" for his products? Time is money, and that's money well wasted basically. These types of customers (audiophiles and audio/video enthusiasts, alike), from my direct personal experience, are largely curious, uncommitted at that point(I mean they want to try the product because they're uncertain about ALL their options), and simply running a "science project from the library", basically! These are not the kinds of customers that will pay your bills, trust me!
That said, I ask you, "would you loan equipment out to people you KNEW were not going to buy anyway?" If you answered yes to that, you might wanna consider another source of income. Believe me!

"They insisted that I buy one and if not satisfied, take it back for an exchange for better (more expensive) ones."

Andrew Singer, from Sound by Singer on the East Coast US has been using this approach for years. And he's been one of the very very few ultra high end audio salons that has mad it work! He's no dummy when it comes to making a sale, and getting products to the customers. I can tell you that much. He understands that if you simply let the customers, say, borrow your Porsche for a week - to have fun with - and you don't make them commit to buy one model or another if he let's them borrow the car (so to speak), they will return the Porsche with a simple "thank you", and be on their merry way!...not only that, but leaving you left having to clean the sucker, and fill in all the dents and scratches, when you're done having your jollies with it!

Business is business, basically. You can't let kids run through your store, unrestrained, and hope to make a profit! If anyone is interested in doing a "trial run" on some gear, and tinkering like an audiophile, they can EASILY buy ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING - for cheaper, mind you - over the internet!
Just don't expect your local mom-and-pop high end AV store to offer a "try-out service", a "loaner program", a 30 day (Best Buy), no questions asked, return policy (after you figured you really need the rent money, or your wife says she would rather to go on a vacation with that money instead) and expect to be in business the following year.
I completely understand what you have just said.
Do you think the dealers can have a loaner program like, OK, if you want to try this out, I will charge your X% of the original cost of the equipment times the days the equipment is in your hand. Return the item at the end of the trial period. Extra charge for excess tear and wear.
Do you think this would somehow work?
Benqsun- If the dealers in your area are doing as you stated;I would bring the denon with me and do the a/b comparsion at the store.
When I got into audio the store I did business with in St.Paul MN policy was to pick up the piece for audition on saturday and return the unit on monday as they were closed on sunday;I haven't bought new in many years and did not know that this practice of doing business has vanished.
Iplaynaked- thats for some insight on the new sales thinking of today.
Rleff - "When I got into audio the store I did business with in St.Paul MN policy was to pick up the piece for audition on saturday and return the unit on monday as they were closed on sunday;I haven't bought new in many years and did not know that this practice of doing business has vanished."

Despite what "Iplaynaked" says, this practice has not totally disapeared. You might have to look around a bit but that type of dealer still exists.

Iplaynaked - You said that you had worked in a number of "high end audio stores" over the years .... Are any of them still in business? If your attitude represents that of the owners that I suspect not. Do you purchase a new vehicle without taking it for a thorough test drive? I hope not. Not trying to pick a bone with you but it's exactly that type of attitude that caused many of the specialist AV stores to close. And just as an example of what can happen when you allow a customer to demo components in their own systems - in the last 12 months I've purchased a $3,000. cd player and a $5,000 integrated amp after trying them and a couple others in my 2 channel system. Probably not "high end" money by your standards but it seemed to please the guy I purchased them from.
I took the other route since I could not get an in house demo from my local dealers. I purchased over the last couple of years quite a few gears from local craigslist, ebay, and here on audiogon. Tried them for a few days or a week, then sell them if I do not like them or think there are better components for the money. Sure I sometimes lose a few dollars during this trying and swapping process, but it allows me to audition quite a few gears and I feel it worth it.
Benqsun- nothing wrong with that as long as the $$ hit isn't to bad.
Northwoods_maine - nice to hear stores like I was use to are still offering that option.