What to do next . . .?


This is my first post, so I'm not sure if it belongs here.

I'v been what I call an audiophile for about 15+ years now, but the last 5 years I have been dormant. When I was into it on a day be day thing I really didn't have the money for it but what I ended up with (till this day) is a Conrad Johnson MF 2100 amp, California Audio Labs DX-1 CD player, Acurus LS 11 preamp and a pair of 2Ce Vandersteen speakers.

My question is what part of this setup should I upgrade to better my sound. My gut instinct is the CD player, but I've been so long "out of the game" of audio I'm not sure where to start?

Any help would be appreciated, and if this is in the wrong forum just let me know and I'll post it there.

On a side note I also own an Denon 2910 dvd/cd player and Im wondering which is better the DX-1 or 2910 - but maybe I should post this on the digital forum
last_lemming
Swap the players out and decide for yourself,after all,you are the one that has to listen to it.
Your room your room and YOUR ROOM unless you have already tackled it? I know its not as sexy as a new piece of gear but thats it all in a nutsheel.Get the room right as possible and even cheap gear will sound like you have spent thousands on the upgrade path.
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If your hunch is the CD player, then it probably is the CD player. The Denon is not bad, but a bit lack-luster, but still not bad. I do not know about your other player.

If you want to look into CD players (or a separate DAC) I would suggest posting a new thread in the Digital thread area as you will get more replies. Make sure to list your budget and what you perceive youÂ’re missing sound-wise with your current player. I would suggest buying used to maximize budget $. HTH.
if you ONLY use digital sources, I would look for a DAC with volume or level controls and run the DX-1 into that unit bypassing the Acurus pre altogther.

EAD dacs are highly thought of to this day as well as some others. There are some new DAC's with volume controls as well, many are made in China so you must be selective regarding quality and reputation.

Jeff
I disagree with all the previous posters. At this level, the source is not going to make a huge difference. There is not a huge lot of differences in digital sources.

Based on your equipment, maximum bang for the buck will be to upgrade your preamp. Since you have a CJ amp, pick up a used CJ tubes preamp (Premier 17LS2 is pretty good), and be prepared for a big difference.

If you don't want to change the preamp, change the speakers. But digital source is the last thing I would change.

As a sidenote, why don't you swap out the Cal audio cd player for a $30 dvd player from wal mart and see the amount of difference it makes. You will be only out of $30 and if you feel there is a huge difference between the $30 CD player and your Cal audio, then go ahead and get a better digital player, as recommended by some of the posters above.
Let me get this straight ... you own both the Denon and Cal audio, and yet you ask which is better to a bunch of folks on Audiogon.

Don't you think you should let your ears decide ? If you cannot form an opinion by listening to both the pieces, then you are making it too difficult. If something is better, it should be obvious. If not, save your money till you hear something that obvious.
"Let me get this straight ... you own both the Denon and Cal audio, and yet you ask which is better to a bunch of folks on Audiogon."

We'll - yes. Last night I tried the Denon unit. I can't say I heard any really noticable difference. I think the Denon was a bit more laid back and thin vs. the CAL, but remember I've been listening to the CAL for 15 years! The CAL sounded a bit more full. And in this sport there isn't a lot of other people around here to hear their systems for comparison. My listening room is only 12x12 to top that off so that isn't helping. Not to mention I've had the whole system in a closet for the past 5 years boxed up. So while the design and technology has been improving Im not sure just how it has improved and which components would match my others. I read the posts on this site and man there are ALOT of differing opinions, add to that all the mix of different equipment and how it acts on one another and you have another quagmire to sort through.

So I thought asking the question would get me pointed on the right direction.
A 12 x 12 room is your problem. I would also support Schipo and state your next move should be to exam the room. If you can negotiate a different listening room in the house, please do so. Next treat the room.

Good luck,
D
>> Last night I tried the Denon unit. I can't say I heard any really noticable difference.

Bingo. That is what I was saying above. And I can assure you that it will be the same story even if you get whatever it is that you want as a digital source, short of a cost no object design. But if you wait long enough, there will be enough people who question your findings ... did you use the right cable, did you use the right power cord, etc. etc. I say you trust your ears and as suggested above, you can try this out with a $30 DVD source also.

As far as the room is concerned, the easy thing to suggest is to change it. But in the real world, we have to make do with the rooms we have. I have found that a good tubed preamplifer makes a significant difference in the quality of sound.

Another option would be to consider an intergrated. I am partial to the sound of the Ayre Ax-7E integrated. It can be had for around $1800 used. This integrated really opened my ears, so to speak, as to how critical amplifcation can be in determining the final sound of your system.

Thanks
Get a CJ pre to match the amp.
In order:

Change the room for something bigger with unequal dimensions.

If you can't change the room, get some smaller speakers that don't go down so deep. I had the 2CEs in a 11 x 17 room and they overloaded the room with bass. They are also fussy re vertical listening axis and this is related to listening distance.

Once you get this right, work on the preamp and the source.

If you are interested in trying a different more modern CD player I would recommend an Arcam FMJ 33 0r the FMJ 36. Compared to a variety of players I was supprised at how well it performed in every area. It may tame the bass making a it bit more tuneful in your room and provide a bit more air and detail. Didn't see any used for sale on agon at the moment but have seen them go for a very reasonable prices in the last few months here.
Please do one change at a time and get confortable with that one change first. I would not get rid of the CD or DVD player. What I would do first is get a good DAC and use the CD player or CD player as a transport. The DACs that are in CD players or DVD players are typically (note I said typically, not always) not of great quality, because the power supplies are really not up to snuff and other things are not quite high-end quality in the internal DAC. Borrow a decent DAC, plug it in and you will hear a very marked difference in the sound quality. I guarantee. If you don't have the money for a new one, many used ones are available on Audiogon. For example, a Theta Gen V dac is wonderful for only a couple of hundred bucks. Heavy as a power amp with a power supply and internal circuitry that is high-end. Try it. I wouldn't change anything else until I add the DAC first. Don't change the pre-amp or power amp or speakers yet. One change at a time. Add the DAC first. Borrow and listen. If you can't borrow, then buy a used one inexpensive on Audiogon before investing large sums on something that you can't hear at home first.

enjoy
I agree with Ddd1.
I was all for changing the preamp for a used CJ with tubes until I found out about the 12X12 room. The 2Ce speakers are way too big for your room. Get smaller speakers first then a tube preamp.
Well all it good in the world. I convinced my wife to let me move the system into the living room (approx. 16d x 22w x 10h). Sounds much more open, though I've lost a bit of bass. Speakers are on the long wall. So i'll live with this a few weeks and just listen to the system again and "get to know it" again.
I will agree with most here, room is the key. Speaker positioning with enough "breathing" room is a must.Once you've decided where the system is going to be, I would advise to look over the power supplied to your system. Dedicated lines maybe ? This is a cheap upgrade, that will last forever no matter what gear you will plug into it.

And then, or now, get yourself a proven superior recording CD, of something you know well or enjoy very much. I'm not talking the regular remastering of an old popular album regularly sold at 9.99 $. Don't be cheap on that one. If it costs you 40 $, just get it !Surprises are available here. And remember that recording might not be available at your regular music store. Compare with what you are used to. It should, at least, show you if your system can give you more. After room treatment and power line improvement, if you don't get better performance from your actual gear, or don't hear any difference, then start looking for better units. But only then !

If your wife shows you enough mercy to install the system in the living room, remember you will need to distance your speakers from the wall to get the best out of them, unless they were specifically designed to be at the wall.That should test your wife's patience further more. Show her pictures of set ups here on Audiogon. Don't aggravate her by purchasing expensive equipment that don't improve anything ! At least have her shop with you, if she loves music of course! Otherwise, refrain from this last advice. A divorce is much more expensive than an audio system.
"If your wife shows you enough mercy to install the system in the living room, remember you will need to distance your speakers from the wall to get the best out of them, unless they were specifically designed to be at the wall.That should test your wife's patience further more. Show her pictures of set ups here on Audiogon. Don't aggravate her by purchasing expensive equipment that don't improve anything ! At least have her shop with you, if she loves music of course! Otherwise, refrain from this last advice. A divorce is much more expensive than an audio system."

We I did indeed convince the wify to let me put the system in the living room (see my post just above yours). Im on the long wall about 32" from the back and 8+ feet from any side wall. I sit about 4' from the back wall. I dont have much more flexiblity than that though.

Also for those with an Iphone, its probably been mentioned before, but download a level on the iphone and set all your tilting axis to a tenth of a degree. My speakers are set to 1.1 degree back lean. The sound is more open for sure and the sound stage deeper, not so much because of the lean, but just being in a right size room. But I always have issues with angle of the speakers to the sitting position. I find that if I keep the speakers square to the room to sound stage is broader but less focused. Right now Im about 3 to 5 degress tilted in, But these Vandersteens have always been a bit tempermental on placement.
I prefer long wall placement. The bass loss, might just be a standing wave. I'd hazard a guess that the overall bass quality has improved. IME, the Vandy's are quite sensitive to room and placement.
Unsound, Agreed, I prefer the long wall too. The midbass energy should be greatly improved and the stage should be much wider.

The Vandersteens don't like to be near side walls and with a 22' long wall there shouldn't be any problem there.

The area of concern is in the 16' dimension since Vandersteens with their rear firing woofer and in general should be away from the front wall for best tonal balance and imaging.

There is also a need for some type of room treatment behind the listening position.