What should I upgrade


I'm putting this here because I'm not sure of where to put it. I have a very modest system.

-NAD C162 pre amp
-Aragon 2004 amp
-Emotiva XDA-1 DAC
-Squeezebox Touch/Sonos pulling files off of an NAS
-Silverline Minuet Supremes
-Rel T3 sub, which I actually rarely use

I really like my system, but am kind of getting an itch to get something different. The speakers are pretty much here to stay for a while. So far, they're the best for me, considering my space/placement limitations.

I think I'm also going to stick with the SBT and Sonos. I really like the convenience of not having to deal with disks. I have grand kids.

So, given what I have for a pre, amp and DAC, what should I upgrade that will probably give me an appreciable improvement?

Well, something different would be active speakers. The little Neumann KH 120 A (http://www.neumann-kh-line.com/neumann-kh/home_en.nsf/root/prof-monitoring_studio-monitors_nearfield-monitors_KH120A) will amaze you.

I'd also suggest consolidating the preamp & DAC into a DAC with balanced outputs (like a Benchmark DAC1 Pre).

I know, I know, crazy talk! :-)
Find an interesting tube preamp.
Various tube preamps around.
Lots of new ones from China...
Other used ones worth looking at.
Older Conrad Johnson.
Early VAC (later very expensive)
middle Audio Research Sp-9 area
Counterpoint SA2000 SA3000 (Counterpoint have a tendency to fail in the power supply. so see it it was upgraded)

I have owned a Counterpoint SA2000 and loved it. It broke and i sold it, sorry I did that.
(used $800 a ways back in time)
I still have and use a VAC Standard love it (used $1,400 was a bargain.)
I also have an Audio research Sp-15 I like a lot. ($1,500 used, higher now like $2K)

I have always wanted a Conrad Johnson..

Anyway, A nice middle priced tube preamp is exacctly the ticket you could go for and be happy with some new ways to enjoy your music.
Try finding a used integrated like an ARC, Prima Luna etc.
+1 to Hifigeek1's reco, look for a nice tubed integrated amp in your price range.
What kind of speaker cables and IC's you using.
You have to go a long way to beat those Silverlines.
Thanks for the responses. I know that the Silverlines are going to be hard to beat without spending a whole lot more money, where I have to have them, anyway. I noted above that those were here to stay for a while. I only mentioned them for the sake of speculated system synergy.

I have been giving some thought to grabbing a tubed pre amp, but then also thought that my cheapie DAC might need upgrading. I wasn't sure, so posted this thread for some opinions.

I am a bang for the buck kind of guy, so I run all Blue Jeans cabling.
If you really like your system, perhaps you can just enjoy the music and not tinker with it - human beings have this psychological need to venture out and experience something new, and this can get costly in hifi real fast.

You know about the law of diminishing returns - higher you go, the less satisfying will be your returns, unless you spend much much more...

What I did, when i got the itch, is to get a new mini system for a different part of the apartment - gym area, kitchen, bed rooms, etc.

If you want to go this rout, might be interested in something like this - it has computer streaming capability + improves ipod sounds by using it's upgraded DAC on play back.

I really like my system, but am kind of getting an itch to get something different. So, given what I have for a pre, amp and DAC, what should I upgrade that will probably give me an appreciable improvement?
If you really like your system, perhaps you can just enjoy the music and not tinker with it - human beings have this psychological need to venture out and experience something new, and this can get costly in hifi real fast. You know about the law of diminishing returns - higher you go, the less satisfying will be your returns, unless you spend much much more... 06-03-13: Liquid-smooth

I'd say listen to Liquid-smooth. I agree, if you like your system, enjoy it. When you begin to tinker there are no guarantees of anything except that you'll be spending money. I've observed that upgraditis often occurs because of dissatisfaction with the system. You really like yours; be happy for a time.
"but then also thought that my cheapie DAC might need upgrading."

Actually, the XDA1 Emotiva dac is very good. I had one in my system for a year and replaced it with the 1,000.00 Wyred4Sound dac1. There is a difference for the better with the Wyred dac, but not very much better. I could have easily lived with the Emotiva. Replacing the dac won't give you very much bang for the buck. I would also look into a tube integrated and would lean towards the Prima Luna or Mystere integrated.
Sorry about mentioning speakers. I picked up on your comment about wanting "appreciable improvement."

A tube preamp might give you an audible different sound.

A tube amp (or integrated) will likely sound different based on the impedance curve of the Minuet.

I doubt that you could spend enough on a DAC to get an audible difference.

The only other observation I had was trying to better utilize your subwoofer by high-passing the Minuets.

Good luck with the hunt.
Guys, I do appreciate the responses. The comments that I got regarding the DAC kind of puts me at ease on that front. I think I just had it stuck in the back of my head that I might be able to get a good bit of an improvement if I replaced my $150 DAC. Yes, I got it when they were trying to clear the isles for the XDA-2 and feel like I just about got it for free.

After having gotten the XDA-1, I did compare it to quite a few other, more expensive, DACs and wound up keeping the XDA-1.

As far as the Minuets go, I won't try to say that they are the best speakers in the world, because they do have their limitations; but they truly are small marvels. They've sounded the best in my system/set up and I've tried up to $2K a pair speakers.

I haven't tried high passing the minuets. My pre doesn't have a sub out; and besides, my sub is a REL and I run it using the Nutrik connector on the high end.

I've gotta say, though, I've been running the Minuets full range and they've taken all that I've thrown at them. These little things go pretty deep for what they are and they do it cleanly.

I'm also sort of glad that no one had anything bad to say about my prehistoric Aragon amp. I think it's a pretty nice amp.

The preamp is what I was thinking that I might upgrade; and as luck would have it, I started getting what sounds like static out of the right speaker. After a bit of diagnosis, it looks like it's the pre amp. I guess I'll start looking for a tube pre and get ready to take the NAD to the doc.

Might try sliding a DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core as your pre/dac.
I still say get a tube integrated amp, you will get more bang for the buck, which is especially important on the lower end of the money scale. At your price level (NAD, Aragon), an integrated amp would make the most sense. Do not dismiss integrated amps, I have heard a $6500 integrated amp outperform $20,000 separates.

I don't know anything about your DAC, but your speakers are good bang for the buck. Couple them with a tube integrated amp and you'll have a very nice little rig.
How much power would I need in a tubed integrated? I know that part of the hype regarding the Minuets is that they can be run on a low powered tube amp, but they really come into their own with some power behind them.

What aspects of the sound or features otherwise are you looking to improve?

DOn't know how to suggest anything without knowing your goals first. "Improvement" means something different to everyone unfortunately.
Just a few comments...

Your pre doesn't need a sub output to high pass the main speakers. You simply need to insert an active crossover between the preamp and amp.

The REL philosophy of using speaker connections was originally intended to be used with full range speakers. When Richard Lord had the company the goal was SUB BASS -- extending full range speakers. Unfortunately, speaker level connections with small speakers simply allows them to continue to produce gobs of distortion and making the goal of clean bass unattainable.

Richard Vandersteen is the only designer I know that recognizes this fact and places a high pass filter in the speaker level connections. He's also one of the few that bass limits his stand mount speaker. His philosophy seems to be that no bass is better than distorted bass.

Using tubes in the amplifier section with your speakers seems iffy to me given the huge impedance peak in the midrange. Granted it's narrow and maybe narrow enough that you won't notice. Tubes in the preamp would be fine.

Just my 2 cents.
Ok, I was looking around for some tubed gear and came to the conclusion that tubes aren't for me. Not right now, anyway. All of my equipment has to go into the entertainment center. I'm guessing it's going to get hot in there.

As for what I want. I want it to sound better. I want it to sound more lifelike. I want it to bath me in rich tones.

Bob, I understand what you are saying about high passing the Minuets, but I'm kind of wondering if we are hearing the same thing out of the Minuets. When it comes to bass, the Minuets' only crime, as they say, is one of omission. I have yet to hear any distortion coming from the Minuets at any levels that I am comfortable with.

In any case, I will go to my local shop this weekend and see if they have an active crossover that I can borrow.
06-04-13: Tonyangel
Ok, I was looking around for some tubed gear and came to the conclusion that tubes aren't for me. Not right now, anyway. All of my equipment has to go into the entertainment center. I'm guessing it's going to get hot in there.

As for what I want. I want it to sound better. I want it to sound more lifelike. I want it to bath me in rich tones.

Sorry, it appears as if you want two polar opposites. You want better sound, more lifelike, bathed in rich tones, but without tubes. That will be tough to do. I guess my other suggestion would be to get an analog front end. Tubes and vinyl will lead you towards a more lifelike sound, if you can't swing tubes, try an analog rig.

Or maybe, you could buy some Cardas Golden Cross cables that will help smooth out your harsh solid state/digital sound. Good luck!
A tube pre-amp might be the ticket if not too confined and cabinet can handle it. Much less heat than a tube power amp. You might be able to rig up some quite fan ventilation to help it out if needed.

I run a mhdt Paradisea single tube DAC in a tall cabinet without a problem. It has glass doors that I can close without a problem in front. I leave the rear cover off and rear of cabinet open to help with ventilation, but that one tube would probably not care if the cabinet were sealed as long as the room itself is not overtly hot otherwise.

I agree with the replies that upgrading your dac will not give you a significant improvement, or even much of a change, in sound quality.

I think Elizabeth's and others' suggestion of a tube preamp is probably the alteration in your system that would result in the most significant change in sound quality. I used this strategy about 7 yrs ago (pairing a tube preamp with an Aragon 4004 ss amp) and this made my system more lifelike, textured, 3 dimensional and a touch on the warm side of neutral; just what I wanted.

The heat produced by a tube preamp is low, nowhere near the heat of tube power amplifiers. However, you do need adequate ventilation space around and especially above the preamp for the heat to escape. Nothing should be stacked on top of the preamp. I leave my tube preamp on 24/7, and just replaced the 4 tubes recently after 7 yrs, but this is not required.

I wouldn't change your speakers. Your Silverline Minuets are very nice and you like their sound. For smaller speakers, they're not overly efficient. They have an 88.5 sensitivity rating which means they may benefit from more power. You may want to try a new/used tube preamp with a higher powered ss amp. From personal experience, I know that pairing a tube preamp with one of the newer class D ss amps produces excellent results.

The Minuets are rated at 100-300 watts for power handling. I think your Aragon 2004 is at the lower end of this range, somewhere around 100 watts. Doubling or tripling your power will result in several benefits. The music should sound more relaxed/flowing and the dynamic range should increase. A class D amp will not only give you the added power, it will be neutral and pass along the tube qualities of a the preamp unhindered. Since it produces very little heat, it is also better suited to the confines of an entertainment center (although nothing should be stacked directly above it, either).

Just something to consider.
Hope this helped,
Speakers. Big tall full range speakers. You are missing the bottom half of the music. You are also missing the larger scale that big speakers deliver. No other change with make a huge difference.
Tony, I don't think we typically recognize bass distortion, because we've seldom heard otherwise, i.e., we have no reference. Relative to decent electronics speakers create large amounts of harmonic distortion. High pass filters are used in crossovers to minimize this by keeping the driver in its linear region of operation. It's very rare to see a high pass filter to bass limit a speaker's woofer. Since it's the defacto standard everyone seems to accept it.

In a 3-way design there's a crossover between the midrange and the woofer, so why wouldn't we do the same when adding a subwoofer to a 2-way design since we are effectively creating a 3-way speaker system with the advantage of a decoupled woofer.

Just for reference, you can scan some of the subwoofer measurements here: http://www.hometheatershack.com/forums/subwoofer-tests-archived/6015-index-subwoofer-tests-manufacturer-model.html

For example, compare the REL R-305 to the SVS SB12-Plus (I owned this sub for several years). The REL hovers around 10% at all levels until 40 - 50 Hz and then things go exponential. The little SVS is around 5% until about 50 Hz with a somewhat gentle rise and then exponential below 30 Hz.

So you see a trend that distortion rises as level increases and/or frequency decreases. And remember these are relatively big boxes with big drivers. It's no surprise that manufacturers seldom publish distortion measurements.

I used to own a pair of Spendor S8e ($3200/pair) floor standing speakers -- 2-way design with an 8" woofer. I was quite happy with this speaker until watching the first LOTR movie. The woofer started bottoming out; scared the mess out of me. That sent me researching subs and bass management. I added a $2200 M&K 12" sub with BMC to the system and obviously no more banging of the Spendor's woofer. But, the surprising thing was the obvious increase in clarity while listening to traditional jazz at roughly 70 - 75 dB levels. There was also an increase in sonic "weight" and apparent soundstage width and depth.

So the take home message for me was that when adding a sub to a system we are playing speaker system designer and we'll likely get a better result if we utilize a crossover between the main speakers and the sub.
One other potential issue when mating a sub with small speakers is that the sub needs to have an extended upper frequency response.

Keeping with their philosophy of sub-bass, REL subs expect the main speakers to go low to meet the sub.



The SVS has a little more useful top end for mating with small speakers.


I was thinking along the same lines that you are. I think that I could get away with a tubed pre for the reasons that you stated. I've always wanted something along the lines of an Audio Research piece. I just need to find one with remote control.


I am getting what you are saying; and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes, especially with that three way speaker analogy.

So...what sort of crossovers are there available? I looked into the NHT X2, but can't find one. What else should I be looking at/for?
Tony, analog bass management crossovers are just about a thing of the past. I really hated to see NHT stop making the X2.

Hsu Research makes this crossover: http://www.hsuresearch.com/products/high-end-crossover.html. It's unbalanced only, not as flexible as an NHT X2 and more expensive, but it's still available.

Bryston has their 10B-SUB product, but as I recall it's quite expensive.

Some subs contain high-passed outputs. Velodyne typically uses a 1st order filter for this purpose which is fine for most floor standing speakers, but not much help for small stand mount. The SVS sub I owned used a 2nd order filter and it worked well for me. I've not looked at their current line up to see if they still offer that feature.

The world has moved away from analog to digital so I think most subs expect bass management to be done in the av preamp.

In the pro audio world there are devices called monitor controllers that are a combination of bass management and level control. Two that I know of offer digital room mode correction: KRK's Ergo and JBL's MSC1. I've used an MSC1 in my office system for several years.

It would be nice if some of the high-end (or not so high-end) preamp manufacturers would incorporate bass management in their products.

Since you like your main speakers so much, you might consider finding a nice sealed sub with bass management.

Turns out this little SVS sub does: http://www.svsound.com/subwoofers/sealed-box/sb-1000#.UbEgv-c8BBk

As does this one: http://www.svsound.com/subwoofers/sealed-box/sb12-nsd#.UbEhP-c8BBk

Good luck.
-- Bob

Thanks for the information. I called my local guy and he does have a cross over that I could try, but he also said that if I like it, I'm SOL because he doesn't know where I can get a reasonably priced one that works well.

I have seen that Parasound has a classic pre amp with a bass management system built into it, but I don't know how this unit would compare to my NAD.
It's nice that you have a local dealer that can let you try things. At least you'll know whether or not you want to pursue this.

Thanks for the mention of the Parasound Model 2100 preamp. I didn't see the slope of the filters, but at least it provides a reasonable way of connecting a sub into a 2-channel analog system. The price seems very reasonable to me.

I forgot about this guy: http://www.marchandelec.com/. Look at the XM9.

The Parasound preamp is probably a better value; the HSU crossover is a better value.
I appreciate all of the info Bob. I think that a good crossover would probably be a worthwhile addition to my system.

I looked into the XM9 and there is a lot of information out there about modding them; although that makes me wonder why the need for modding exists.

The better units like the Bryston are just out of my range, price wise.

I'm going to look into trying to find a Hsu unit.
Tony, I ran across this, which I think is a VERY COOL device...

The MiniDSP: http://www.minidsp.com/products/minidsp-in-a-box/minidsp-2x4

Building a 2-way crossover: http://www.minidsp.com/applications/digital-crossovers/stereo-2-way-xover

May not be your cup of tea, but looks like loads of fun to me.

-- Bob
Bob, that does look interesting. I don't know about building one. I don't even know if my soldering station still works.

I'm going to keep an eye out for a Hsu unit.
Oh, I just got back from my local shop and checked out an NAD integrated. I think that what I heard sort of convinced me that my amp is what I need to be looking at; although I am looking around for a cross over.
Tony, NAD makes nice gear. They are one of the few that offer integrated amps with both preamp out and main amp in jacks. Thus, you can insert a crossover before the amp just like with separates.

On another thread "How much do you have to spend, to get a good Sub?" Marty offered sound advice, as usual, and I think it applies to anyone wanting good full range sound.

There's no doubt that you can change electronics and even cables to get different sonics from an audio system, however, those are all minimum effects when compared to the room and the speaker interaction with it.

The bottom line is that until you finally address in-room response, you'll be chasing ghosts. I spent many years doing just that. It was a very expensive education.

Best regards,
The problem is that there is no dealing with in-room response, in my system. My system is in the den and I have what I have, which is why I've had so much trouble finding just the right set of speakers to be able to make the most of what I have.

The Silverline Minuets have done an admirable job of "polishing a turd."

I'm still looking for a good deal on a decent crossover. That is my most immediate concern. I'm really curious to see how the Minuets behave when they are high passed.
Tony, you can deal with the room response... It's simply a matter of giving up the audiophile purism.

Barry Ober (The Sound Doctor http://www.soundoctor.com/about.htm) told me many years ago when he was doing customer support for M&K to just get an Anthem. I didn't listen and spent close to $10K on Bryston electronics to drive the $5K+ M&K 2.1 speaker system. I'm now running a $1500 Marantz AV7005 into an active 2.2 speaker system and have in room sound far better than the much more expensive Bryston + M&K system.

An AV pre/pro or AV receiver does so much more than traditional analog electronics that have actual in room benefits -- speaker setup (distance and level matching) and room mode correction. When I first installed the M&K pro bass management controller I found that I had a 1.5 dB level mismatch between left & right speakers caused by room furnishings. I couldn't fix that with my Bryston BP-26.

We finally have electronics available that can address the real culprit in bad sound -- the room. I'm not saying that the DSP systems are perfect, but for those of us in real living spaces they are a blessing. I understand that many audiophiles can't make the transition; I was one for way too many years.

I hear what you are saying. When I first took an interest in "better than average" gear, I spent a lot of time in my local high end shop. I auditioned all sorts of stuff. Spent a bit of money too. In the end, I just settled for the best sound that I could get in MY room.

I do, however, have to admit that most of that was speaker selection. I have the little Minuets now and they are hear to stay for a while. They are the most forgiving speaker that I've tried.

As for the Pre/Pro, it's funny that you mentioned that. I was actually thinking along those line too, not too long ago, when an NAD T162 came up for sale.
Many of the audiophile brand AV components (NAD, ROTEL) don't move enough units to justify the fees for Audyssey so room mode correction isn't available. That's a deal breaker for me since as Dr. Toole has said, below 350 Hz you hear the room, above you hear the speaker. Anthem has developed their own RMC and as Kal has demonstrated in his column performs very well.

But, even without RMC, an AV pre/pro or receiver gives you bass management and speaker setup.

Best of luck in the hunt...