What should I change

Hello everyone,

I currently have a 2 channel setup consisting of all Audia electronics (Audia Flight Pre, 100 AMP, CD-One), peak consult empress speakers, 2 stereo subs (audio data soutien 2s). ICs and PCs are made by my consultant.

While I can't complain about any aspect of the sound (soundstage, timber, impact etc is all good) I am stuck with the most intangible problem. Lack of or low on emotion. I can't seem to be able to get drawn into music.

I changed from all ARC an year back and although its been a long time I don't recall having this problem so consistently. Sure I had my bad days due to stress etc where music was not enjoyable but I don't remember this being a long streak.

Maybe I am just tired as it took me a year to get to my present system and it has been a long and hard journey. Or maybe its the tubes that I am still missing.

My consultant has a view (similar to many others I have read on the forums) that these days a well set up system sounds more or less the same as during the last 5 years or so SS and tubes have become very close if not the same. However tube maintenance is a pain. Therefore he is now a pure SS camper. However one twist is that he himself has a tube amp :-)

One question I have is that if I decide to try tube gear which one makes most difference in your experience. This will help as I can't test it with all tube gear to begin with but if one component would take me in the right direction I will move back into tube territory gradually again.

I also heard once that low damping factor (12) of ARC Ref110 was the part that gave it the distinct sound I seemed to enjoy so much. Any comments on that?

Personally I am not an expert and does not have decades of fideling experience with either tubes or SS but I know what I like.

In this thread I hope that people with more experience/knowledge will share some with me.

I can't comment on your setup as I'm unfamiliar with pretty much all of it, but - it is all digital, all SS. is there no way you can audition a tube-based, analog (LP) system?

then again, you might just be burnt out. it's like those couples having trouble in bed: the sex therapist tells them they're forbidden to have sex... so they then go and 'illegally' have sex. what I'm suggesting is that you might limit your listening (or even give it a break for a bit) so that, when you do listen, it's more of a treat.

I think you need to start with the amp/speaker match, and in my experience tubes always involve you more with the music the SS (my ears and taste). Your speakers are pretty easy to drive aren't they? They are sensitive and I think they have pretty smooth impedance curve (important if you go to tubes). I think a good 60 watt tube amp would be more than enough power - maybe an Atma-sphere M60 matched with their MP-3 preamp - IF that your speaker has smooth impedance curve. OTLs are VERY hard to beat IF your speakers can be driven by them. Ofcourse Musicslug's suggestion would also help (vinyl) but that might not be the direction you are interested in going.
Your first mistake was getting rid of the ARC equipment, So, I would start by going back to that and I think most of your problem would be solved.
Low damping is a signature property of almsot all tube amps and may indeed be a part of what your missing. My speakers for example don't generally take kindly to SS because the are internally damped so that they match well with tubes amps - not needing much dampling from the amps.
Not familiar with Audia but ditching the ARC equipment sounds questionable to me.

A tube DAC with the CDP if it has digital outputs might be a low cost, low impact change worth a try.
The Audia equipment looks like good stuff and has had good reviews in Europe - that being said, I think the move away from tubes (not ARC per se)is likely to be the source of dissatisfaction; for some people, only tubes sound right. What equipment has Peak been paired with at audio shows? That could be a good guide (usually).
If your system is digital.....I agree try a tube dac...there are some good ones. Of course tubes have a sound inherit that is pleasing to the brain and ear. I have both a SS amp and tube amps....both are highly transparent....which draws me into what I hear....if I had to say which one was more consistant at acheiving "nirvana" tough call but a great tube amp get's the nod.

If you decide to try a tube dac....I chose a Monarchy NM24...but I replaced the stock tubes (dac side) with Amperex PQ 1950's d-getters and also replace the 2 coupling caps with Mundorf M Supreme.....a excellant upgrade..and easy on the wallet....good luck.
A tube preamp with a quality SS amp is a great combination. You get tube sweetness from the pre, without all the tube maintenance issues (preamp tubes last many thousands of hours).

I personally use a Supratek Chenin tube preamp with a Gilmore Raven SS amp. I love the combo.
your equipment has nothing to do with your emotional satisfaction. there are other reasons, in my opinion. perhaps, it is your expectations, or you are listening in an analytical/critical mode.

consider all possible other reasons, before replacing any of your components.

i have simple tastes. if a instruments sound real, i/m happy. it doesn't matter whether it is a radio, boom box or stereo system that is the medium.
WOW Thanks a bundle to all you good folks for your responses and emails.


I am also suspecting that my brain is (major?) part of the problem. I have been in critical listening mode for the last one year till I reached this point where I have no complains. I guess it was both taxing and changed my listening style from relaxation to analysis and frustration. Giving it a break seems to be a good idea as I have noticed that now when I am listening I am concentrating too much on details as though still trying to find a fault.

I also agree with the statement about instruments sounding real. In fact my consultant says the same that for him there is no SS or tube sound there is just music and that is what he tries to bring out in a system.

Vinyl is definitely something I would like to stay away from not due to any other reason except convinience of digital (PC based music) and lack of background.

For all folks who questioned ditching the ARC gear the reason was than when I bought ARC there was no distribution/dealer in Switzerland. Sending it to Germany for every little change/fix etc was a pain in terms of customs plus I was not happy with my dealer and had some reliability issues with Ref110 which took sometime to resolve pushing me further away from this gear. Now that ARC does have distribution in Switzerland I may consider going back provided I can ascertain that my reason for dissatisfaction is lack of tubes. Even in this case I would try to stick to some European manufacturer as repairs etc are much easier and I didn't like ARC in terms of manual biasing and QA issues with Ref110.

For all folks suggesting tube pre/DAC what I have experienced and heard from other knowledgable people is that although a tube amp is the most painful tube component in terms of maintenance and weight unfortunately it is also the one having the most profound effect on sound. Therefore changing just to a tube DAC or pre will not give one the correct idea on tube sound.

Pubul57 OTL should be fine as the peaks have a pretty benign curve. From Stereophile review of Empress:

"The Peak Consult Empress was too heavy for me to lift it on to a high stand for the farfield acoustic measurements. I therefore had to window out the reflection of its sound from the floor in front of it, which will limit the midrange resolution of the response measurements.

With that caveat in mind, the Empress's sensitivity was slightly higher than average, at an estimated 88.5dB(B)/2.83V/m, though this is less than the specified 90dB. Its impedance remains between unusually narrow limits (fig.1), only rising above 6 ohms above the audioband and never dropping below 4.4 ohms. Its electrical phase angle is also small, with the only questionable combination of low magnitude and high phase angle occurring at 31Hz: 5.4 ohms and –45 degrees. Even then, music rarely has high energy at this frequency, meaning that the Empress will be a relatively easy amplifier load."

As far as I know peaks are normally mated with Berning in Hifi shows in US and they are OTLs right?

Don't get me wrong on Audia stuff its really good (all class A and tube like) however its easy to blame the gear when you are not happy (guess it's human nature). The only issue could be that the damping factor of Audia amp is 85 but I have not seen any other SS amps with less DF (Pass X60 has DF of 150 and is reputed to be quiet close to tube sound). Maybe its just one variable so I should not put so much focus there.

I am not too much keen to listen to a tube set up as you can't gauge the sound difference in a show room or someone else's house in my experience.

So to me the 2 choices at thi spoint in time seem to be either give it more time or try a tube poweramp. Any other suggestions?

Take advantage of those manufacturers that are offering free home trials.3 come to mind.All offer top tier equipment.
AUDIO HORIZONS,pre amps,DACS and cabling.
MOSCODE,hybrid tube/ss amps
NUFORCE,Class D amps,pre amps

I've got the Audia little brothers, Flight Two Int Amp & CD Two, in my Living Room setup (not yet posted) paired with Focus Audio FS-888s and twin Velodyne subs.

With 3 other systems that are all tube or have tubes in the mix and not ready to commit to another set of tube amps in the living room yet, I chose Audia as a stop gap. When auditioning, I was impressed with the balanced sound, control, specs, & build quality. To me, this was a SS amp that a tube lover might appreciate, especially so when compared to other decent quality similarly priced SS amps auditioned. After living with them now for almost two years, by and large, I am quite pleased and do not feel at all that the FS-888s (90 dB @ 4 ohms) are wanting for power.

That said, like you, for some time now, I experienced precisely what you did with respect to feeling that there "was something missing". As I listen to the other tubed rigs far more frequently, the differences were / are readily apparent. A few months ago, for a change of pace, I decided to drop my Primaluna Prologue 2 in the mix just for a change of pace. The driver & input tubes have been upgraded to high grade tubes & it sounds really quite nice; ironically, approaching SS like sound. After a few weeks, a funny thing happened - I actually started missing the Audia amp and realised how much I appreciated its virtues . . . clarity, tonal balance, sense of power, and very good bass delineation. I have since decided to hold off on any changes for now and simply appreciate the current system for what it is.

Accordingly, my vote would be to give it a bit more time. If, after more time, you still feel the need for a change, you’d still have not really lost anything and will have solidified the reasons for wanting the changes in the first place. Good luck either way.

"For all folks suggesting tube pre/DAC what I have experienced and heard from other knowledgable people is that although a tube amp is the most painful tube component in terms of maintenance and weight unfortunately it is also the one having the most profound effect on sound. Therefore changing just to a tube DAC or pre will not give one the correct idea on tube sound."

This is probably a true statement in terms of relative impact of the amp versus other components, but I would not rule out a tube pre-amp and/or DAC based on this alone. I can vouch that the effect of a tube DAC can be very significant alone to the extent of totally changing the resulting sound, if that is what is desired. If what is needed is just a tweak, a tube DAC or pre can easily do that as well. THe devil is in the details....what tube piece to use and how it synergizes with the rest of the system, IMHO.
I agree that a tube amp can have a profound effect....but I'm of the same opinion as Mapman. A tube dac can influence the total sound of your system. Since you want to use digital as your source...I would try that first..as the sound can be tweaked a great deal by trying different tubes. My experience is that....a good,smooth,open tube dac is a must......

Also I have certain recordings that have always been my favorites...A lot of them are live recordings. I listen after 10 pm with the room dark...I can relax and the music can really soak in. That usually does the trick..
Hi Rayden, being where you are (Switzerland?) why not audition the FM Acoustics gears. No more debate as to tubes or SS sound, there'll be just you and the music! I respect and do love the AR, going back to their D115, SP10mkII, M300, SP11mkII, also quite recently lived with their Ref.600mkIII and Ref.3 for about 3yrs, alternating the amp with my 15yrs old FM611. But ultimately, after a dealer loaned me an FM pre-amp and some of their cablings earlier this year, i come to realize just how much better the FM combos in synergy are, to me, in my system. Since you are living there, you owe it to yourself to at least give them a listen in yours.. Goodluck!
Thanks again for all the suggestions.

After much deliberation I have decided to give a try to a tube preamp. The 2 contenders I am considering are ARC Ref 3 and Cary SLP-05. Based on my experience with both brands I am sensing a better chance with Cary but only listening will tell. I had an LS-26 before with CD3 and it was not too far off from SS however I heard both the Cary CDP (in my system) and SLP-05 (at a dealer) and they both had more tube sweetness.

If this takes me in the right direction I will see if I would want to venture into the tube amp domain again.
I am curious to hear how you ended up. I have Peak Consult Princess System speakers with ARC Ref 3 and Reference 110 amp. Almost everytime I listen to the system I find myself being drawn into the music. It is very enjoyable. I think the Reference 110 was the major change that seemed to create this sensation although the EMM Labs SACD player also made a huge difference.