What should I upgrade first amp or preamp?

I need your help. I have OPPO BDP-105 connected to PASS Labs XP-10 and XA-30.5 driving 89 dB at 4 Ohm Snell C7. Looking to upgrade my system and planning to spend $ 3000-4000. I live in the apartment building and unfortunately can't listen to music very loud (no more than 58-62 on the XP-10 display).
What would you suggest to do, upgrade preamp to XP-20 first or amp to two XA-60.5 or to XA-100.5 and why. Upgrading an amp is more problematic due to the space constrains.
What will I gain and what should be the difference in sound in each of those cases?
Thank you.
Since you say you can't listen loud its a no brainier the preamp.
I agree with Ejlif. A new preamp would be a better choice over a new amp. Looking at your system, though, I think your weakest component is the Oppo. Both your amp and preamp are 0 feedback, fully balanced designs. Take advantage of those features by getting a source that is a better match for them. The first player that comes to mind is an Ayre C5. It should play all the audio formats your Oppo does and is a much better match to your current system. There are other good players, as well, but that would be my 1st choice.
I agree with Zd. Another option would be to send your Oppo to ModWright. I think you will be very pleased with what comes back.
Thank you for your responds. I looked at ModWrite ipgrades befoere, however I'm not a big fan of tubes and prefer SS in all chains.
Why not upgrade power cords and add power conditioner which will be far cheaper than adding new component.
Most high end equipment has the potential of performing much better than what most audiophiles are getting out of their systems. I have done quite a number of experiments over the years using a range of cables, conditioning, tweaks etc. I have been amazed at the capabilities of even fairly low priced gear when the right supporting elements are in place. Sometimes it takes some patience, but in most cases major improvements can be made at very reasonable cost. I agree with Lapierre that keeping what you have and maximizing performance is the most cost effective way of making upgrades. As a starting point you might want to check the Mapleshade web site.
the other option is a new DAC to run your oppo to your pre.
You may also be able to add a couple of power cords and stay in budget.
I agree with the first couple of posts that changing the XA30.5 to either of the Pass monoblock models is not the path to follow. For one thing, given your relatively low listening volumes you are undoubtedly almost never driving the XA30.5 out of its class A operating region, much less approaching its class AB power limits.

Although perhaps the most significant improvement that would be realized by going to one of the monoblock models would be that they would allow you to use shorter speaker cables. But chances are that could be addressed more cost effectively by upgrading the cables themselves, or by paralleling a second run of the cables you are presently using. The relatively low impedance of your speakers (4 ohms nominal, 2.3 ohms minimum) makes speaker cabling a more significant consideration than would otherwise be the case, and even more so if your run lengths are longer than average.

Regarding the source component, Zd's recommendations are always extremely knowledgeable, but fwiw I would point out that according to the description of the BDP-105 at the Oppo website "the balanced output features a true differential signal path all the way from the DAC to the 3-pin XLR connector."

Regarding power cord upgrades, fwiw I recall several posts that have been made in the past by members I consider to be credible to the effect that Pass class A amps seem to be less sensitive to power cord differences than most other amps of comparable quality. Given the low impedance of your speakers, my instinct would be to focus on speaker cables before power cords, to a greater or lesser extent depending on their length.

-- Al
So, do you guys really think that both preamp and amp are good and sufficient enough and don't need to be changed at all? Regarding cables, I have 10" Analysis Plus Black Oval 12 speaker cables as well as 1.5 m Analysis Plus Solo Crystal interconnects. How good are they in your opinion?
Forgot to say, my speakers are tri-wired, so truly speaking I have wires that 3 times thicker than regular 12 gauge cable wires. Do you think I need something different?
That all sounds good to me, assuming that the Analysis Plus interconnects are the XLR versions. Frankly, I don't see anything that particularly stands out as a weak link, although I have little familiarity with the XP-10 preamp.

-- Al
I know you aren't a big fan of tubes but if you were to throw a Herron VTSP-3a in there, the sound wouldn't go tube-ey. You'd just get a better sense of space and timbre without sacrificing any dynamics. I've been a high end passive guy forever and even tried some SS preamps but it wasn't until I tried a very good tube preamp that I finally got the sound I was looking for.
Set up headphone rig and keep the rest of components as-is.
Of course, they are XLR's. What's the point to have fully balanced equipment without using XLR interconnects.
What are you trying to improve? It is not stated in your original post.Brownsfan suggested the Modwright modification to your Oppo and this is an excellent upgrade in sound(and a very good value).You say you don`t want tubes, okay,what are you seeking in you system that`s currently lacking? Almarg was right in not assuming you naturally have XLR cables,how would he know?
Re the suggestion of the VTSP-3a, by just about all accounts Herron equipment is wonderful, but it is probably not an optimal choice for this application because AFAIK all Herron products are unbalanced RCA only.

-- Al

I do not mean to steal the OP's thread, but why is the Modwright mod so superior to the factory Oppo 105? What does the $2400 uograde give you that you can hear?

I read all the raves about Modwright Oppo's but never in the context of how it sounds different/better to the factory Oppo 105.
I have an Ayre C5 and it is excellent, however, I think the amp and pre should be bought together. If your budget doesn't permit that now, I would listen to earphones until the budget works.
While the XA30.5 probably has all the power you need, my Pass dealer had told me that in the XA series, more so than the X series, the overall sound quality improves more each step up the line.
on the other hand, the move from the XP10 to the superb XP20 is both a significant step up and much less costly than moving up the amp line...
While the XA30.5 probably has all the power you need, my Pass dealer had told me that in the XA series, more so than the X series, the overall sound quality improves more each step up the line.
I would speculate that a major reason for that would be that the higher powered XA amps continue to operate class A up to considerably higher power levels than the XA30.5. But considering the OP's listening levels and speaker sensitivity, it seems likely that his XA30.5 goes into AB mode rarely if ever.

-- Al
Not to mention that even though he mentions the XA100.5, he would have to double the amount he states he wants to spend.
What about dynamic peaks Al? I've read your threads on that and wonder if that matters less at low volume?
JL, as the average volume level is reduced, the volume of dynamic peaks will be reduced by the same number of db. Per the calculation methodology I described in the thread you are probably referring to, with the OP's speakers listened to at a 3 meter distance the XA30.5 wouldn't leave class A until levels of around 97 db were exceeded. (It's coincidental that the 97 db figure in this case is the same as in the situation in the other thread).

I doubt that 97 db would be exceeded on dynamic peaks more than rarely (if ever) in the circumstances the OP describes.

Best regards,
-- Al
There are several upgrades you could do...

Try a Pass X150.5. I was told that although the XA sounds warm, the X.5 series has better bass control, better detail, better clarity, faster speed and better articulation for dialogue in movies. Cost approx $3900.

Try Grover Huffman cables. They are endorsed by Steve Hoffman, famous studio mastering engineer. Grover only offers one quality level, his best, no hype about spending more money to get better sound. His design is patented, he has over 10 years experience, offers a 60 day money back guarantee. I have never seen a negative about them. A reviewer from Positive Feedback wrote " Well, for circa $1000, you can connect your entire system with Grover Huffman cables, and you will be hard-pressed to find better. Each of these items—interconnects, power cords and speaker cables—is in the first rank of its respective class, and has my highest recommendation. Truly outstanding. Tom Campbell" Affordable Audio wrote "Grover Huffman cables are the most affordable cables I've had in my system for years, and yet in many ways they are the best. Regardless of price, their strengths lie in the musical balance and timbrel accuracy they bring to the fore, assuming your system can provide these. These are qualities that really matter for me, but the Huffman cables do this without any loss of detail or curtailing of frequency extremes. You can pay more, you can pay less, but if there is a sweet spot where sonics meet cost, Grover Huffman is sitting in it. Highly recommended." $230 for 1meter XLR pair. Speaker cables $20/ft.

Try a different preamp. Classe SSP600 can be bought used for $2000 and Meridian have good reviews. For even less money but more features you can buy an Integra DHC-80.2 with Audyssey room correction, equalizer, internet radio, and FM and HD radio. Kal Robinson, editor of Stereophile uses one.

Modwright Oppo blu-ray players are great. I lucky to find a used BDP-83SE. You could buy a BDP-95 for $1k and do the stereo mod for $500. The benefits are described as "The end result is a clear improvement over the stock player, ridding the music of digital edge and glare and providing a significant improvement in overall musicality. The lower noise floor and cleaner signal path allow for a broader soundstage and greater refinement of overall resolution and detail. This is due largely to ridding the circuit of one entire op-amp stage, as well as upgrading the signal path resistors and improving the remaining op-amp stage."
Here is a different idea: If you live anywhere near Atlanta, you can spend a fraction of your budget and hire Jim Smith to voice your system. He can come over to listen and on the rare chance that he does not think a voicing session will improve your sound, he will not charge you his fee. I now have heard three systems that he has voiced, and the results have each been outstanding.
If you don't live near Atlanta, get his book or DVD and work on this yourself. You will be surprised at the level of improvement a well-voiced system will reach.
I know that does not answer your question about amp or preamp upgrades. It would be helpful to those trying to offer you advice if you describe what you think your system is lacking.
You may also want to check other threads for speakers that excel at low volume. While the C7's are certainly worthy of your system, they might not be the best low volume choice...
Thank you all for the answers. I really appreciate your help and advices. However, I still can't decide what to do. It's so difficult, especially if there are so many choices. Yes, XA-100.5 is much more expensive than 30.5 and I'll need to spend twice as much. At the same time almost everybody are saying that stepping up from 30.5 to 60.5 in my situation doesn't really make sense because differences are not going to be huge and step up should be to 100.5 to hear the real difference in details, soundstage, etc.
Should I change the preamp to XP-20? Will I see a huge difference? I don't know.
With OPPO I like its capability to play DSD from my hard drive and DAC in it is pretty good.
I'm not changing speaker wires and interconnects, as well as my speakers, I think they are also good.
So what should I do!!!??? :) Any other suggestions would be appreciated.
i guess, first I'll get the SPL meter and check the loudness of my system at the sweet spot and continue from there.
Thank you again.
All your stuff is very good, and there is no right answer, just your personal preferences. I have had the XP-20 for a few months and it is awesome. Can't go wrong with that upgrade.
I’m also thinking the XP-20 due to the much larger power supply. I say this from experience with another Nelson Pass preamp, the Threshold FET10. I owned the original, then added the larger upgraded “e” power supply, and then upgraded to the FET10e. The power supply upgrade was the most significant step up in overall performance between the two changes.
Call Mark at Reno Hifi, he can describe the differences in all the Pass components.
OK, I measured the volume of my usual listenings and got the following numbers: I sit about 6-7 ft from my speakers, average volume is 75-80 dB with 80-90 dB in peaks, max average volume (never got louder yet, but may try this weekend) is 80-85 dB with 95-101 dB in peaks. Most of the time the meter stays around 12 or moves for a second to 1 pm during peaks. Never stays over 12 for more than two sec.
Please help me to understand those numbers, how good (or bad) and efficient my system is and whether my amp is sufficient enough or I need to move up to the next level.
Thank you.
Max average volume (never got louder yet, but may try this weekend) is 80-85 dB with 95-101 dB in peaks. Most of the time the meter stays around 12 or moves for a second to 1 pm during peaks. Never stays over 12 for more than two sec.
Those numbers are somewhat higher than I was anticipating for relatively low level listening in apartment circumstances. I believe that movement of the meter signifies that the amp is switching from class A bias to class AB, which would occur less often or not at all with one of the higher powered XA amps.

So if you sense that the main need for improvement is the ability of the system to handle those peaks as cleanly as possible, going to one of the higher powered XA amps may help. On the other hand, if you want to try to improve sonics at times other than when those peaks occur (which I suspect is likely to be more beneficial), based on the comments by JL35 and others I would consider upgrading to the XP-20.

-- Al

I think you should try to define what it is that you are trying to achieve. I also think that those listening levels are higher than what I was expecting from your earlier description. Once you are clear on what you want improved, I second the suggestion that you contact a Pass dealer or Mark at Reno HiFi for a clear explanation about what you would gain from either the XP10 to 20 upgrade or the XA30.5 to 100.5 upgrade. Given that your needles are moving and your listening levels are not that low, I would lean toward the XA100.5.

I used to own the 100.5 and upgraded to the 160.5 because I was noticing the same movement in the meter and felt the amps could not quite drive my new speakers adequately. Mark advised me and his descriptions were spot on. Dynamics, impact, sense of ease, natural musical flow and inner detail all improved. I was really quite surprised.

On the other hand, the XP-20 is a fantastic preamp. And that upgrade should cost a lot less.
arapuz couple of more insights...

Upgrade to Analysis Plus new black oval 9 or silver oval 2 improving detail and bass $550 - $900.

Living in apartment, I would seriously look into Power Conditioner. Condition the AC may significantly lower the background noise which is probably on the same line as that contractor grade refrigerator $2000

Lastly, the right power cord may provide more detail and clarity depending on overall designs for both amp, preamp and source. And you can borrow the cables from the Cable Co cable library to help make your decision.
What have you decided?