Try the Odyssey Stratos Amp. It is way above the Acurus for about the same price. It is st least on the level with the Aragon or Sonic Frontiers Amps. I love mine.
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Hi, Ampzilla (I remember when GAS actually made the Ampzilla....). With due respect to Ton and Leafs, I'm inclined to suggest you upgrade your speakers. I have a lot of experience with Vandersteen speakers -- I have owned 2Ci's, 3A's, and currently have 3A Signatures, and my son has a pair of Model 1's -- and I think you ought to either move up to the 2Ce's or 2Ce Signatures, or better yet the 3A's (used, if money is an issue). Back in the old days of hi-fi, most stereo systems had two transducers in the audio chain: the phono cartridge, and the speakers. Transducers present the biggest challenge in a good audio system, since they have the job of converting energy from one form to another (the phono cartridge converted mechanical energy to electrical energy, and speakers reverse the process). All transducers have some inherent non-linearity and distortion, typically much more than the electronic components (assuming you have basically good gear, which you do). As such, you are going to hear much more audible sound quality differences with transducers than with electronics (amps, for example, have THD and IM distortion around .01 to .001 percent, whereas transducers often are in the 1% range or higher). At some stage in your audiophile career, you will probably want to upgrade your electronics, but what you currently own is good enough to warrant better speakers. There are a lot of good speakers in a moderate price range -- brands such as Vandersteen, PSB, Paradigm, Magneplanar (the 1.6QR is a audio bargain) --so you should have plenty of choices. I'm sure that other Audiogon regulars can provide many good suggestions to add to my mine.
I agree with the CD Player being your weakest link. If this is the AMC with the Burr Brown 24/96 DAC, you may want to see if Stan Warren can do the same Mod he does on the Pioneer DVD Players with the same DAC. I'll bet he can. The full Mod is $250 plus return shipping. Well worth the money. Stan's number is 541-344-3696
You have a good system, everything is matched and in about the same league. Nice stuff too. With due respect to everyone else, I would start at the most important link, the speakers. Sell the Vandersteen 1's and get some 2 Ce's at least ($750 used), or else go with some B&W or Magnepan. Your present electronics can drive these and you will get great sound. Next, with due respect to the legendary Ampzilla, I would go with a newer amplifier, perhaps a BAT VK-200 (many for sale here) or an Aragon or such, or perhaps an old Counterpoint with or without mods by altavistaaudio.com? Check it out and get back to us as to what happens.
While i do see room for improvement like any other system in existence, you don't mention any of the cables that you're using, size and acoustics of the room, type of music that you listen to or exactly what is wrong / what you're looking to improve. Throwing out a question as you did will result in quite a few "suggestions", all open to personal tastes and interpretation.
Instead of swapping components out one by one and playing the never ended "upgrade" game, try maxing out the components that you have. Doing this will keep more money in your pocket AND improve any equipment that you currently have or purchase in the future.
As such, i'm talking about taking the time to do the basics. Purchase a decent rack. There are quite a few threads and opinions as to what is decent, but i'll leave that up to you to do your homework. After all, "shopping & learning" is half the fun : ) Get the components set up properly on the rack in terms of various isolation, damping, absorption, etc... Carefully lay out your interconnects and power cords and speaker cables. Experiment with speaker placement, some simple room acoustic treatments, etc...
All of this will add up VERY quickly in terms of benefits to EVERY aspect of the system. The best part about doing "simple" things like this is that most of them can be done by yourself and for pennies on the dollar. Not only do you save TONS of money, but you learn quite a bit along the way.
I think that most people seek out performance by replacing / upgrading even though they never took the time to do the basics or find out what the gear that they already have is capable of. Once you've done everything that you can with the existing components in terms of "reasonable" and "sensible" expenditures in time and money, THEN evaluate the system. This will give you a better idea of what you think is lacking, what its' strong points are and where you need to go in terms of sonics. Doing the basics FIRST is kind of like studying a road map before taking a trip. Sure, you might still get sidetracked along the way, but at least you'll have a good idea of where you're at and what you need to do to get back on course. Sean
Upgrading a system like this is a complex undertaking. As has been stated, your system is balanced, components all basically on the same level. I don't see any of the suggestions offered up as being wrong, just a matter of philosophy. I would like to serve up another for consideration. In my opinion, your next upgrade should set the table for what it is you want your system to eventually become. I feel it should be a significant step up from what you currently have. Make it as long term an upgrade as possible. I always think the weakest link should be upgraded, one which can make the most overall improvement. I would upgrade your preamp. I would spend as much as you have in your budget to buy the best preamp you like. One that really takes you up at least two levels. Some suggestions(depending on your tastes and budget) would be Air Tight, Audible Illusions, Audio Research, Blue Circle(really love these), Cary, Electrocompaniet, Jadis, Mark Levinson, Musical Fidelity, Rogue, YBA, etc. The other components in your system will not hung out to dry with this strategy. In the future you may want to upgrade the weakest link to the same level as the new preamp you choose. Good luck!
I second Sean's concept, and I second the other posters' suggestions. 1st get the last ounce of what you have, damping, compenents decoupling, etc are inexpensive and effective. THEN, work on components. Great ideas already mentioned, although I would go first w/ source -- BUT sdcampbell has experienced yr speakers and I have not!
Good luck, you'll enjoy getting there!
Like some others here, I think the speakers are the LAST thing to upgrade. And I wouldn't upgrade a preamp if I only had funds to upgrade one component. First thing to upgrade is your power amp; then your CD player. You should look into getting a CD player that can connect directly into your power amp so you can skip the preamp stage altogether. Really, the speakers are the last to consider. You won't believe how big a difference the power amp and even the interconnects and speaker cables will make in the same speakers. Your speakers are decent. Just my opinion!
I'd start with seriously considering Trelja's comments, Ampzilla. Think about where you want to go with your system over time. However, I agree with South_park and Sdcampbell that a change in your speakers will give you the most immediate and noticeable improvement. If you like your Vandersteen 1's, the 2Ce's will make a very significant improvement in the sound of your system. Your amplifier will easily support the upgrade. The 2Ce's will allow your to tell you a whole lot more about what you're hearing (or not hearing) from the other components in your system, and they will well support improvements you then consider for your front-end. The 1's are nice speakers, but I don't think you will fully appreciate the other changes being recommended to you until you can hear those changes through speakers comparable to the 2Ce's.
thank you all very much.im not a firm believer in racks and cables and wires,to improve on the sound.but the room treatments is a great idea,i mean your gear always sounds soo great at the store,then once home somethings missing,or something else is there.great advice,thanks,oh by the way,i have some tara labs cheapo rca's for my cd player,and some really basic monster cables for the amp to preamp(dont laugh,please!)lol!mostly i listen to newer music,meaning not classical.50's and 60's rock,of all kinds,particularly cream,and the beatles,i like a lot of 80's and 90's music,such as,oasis.the verve,stuff like that,kinda melow english rock i guess?and finally to 311,and sublime.once again,dont laugh.i know most of you probably listen to calssical,or that sort of music,wich i do like,just dont own.i find that bands like 311 have a lot of detail and power in there music,compared to other popish bands.my room is aprox 15x15'but only 3 walls,it opens into the kitchen,probably bad for the sound,difraction,hmm another great reason for treatments,traps,ect.my amp and preamp are very far appart.but my cd player is right under my preamp,i can hear you shuddering at the thought!there in a built in entertainment center,so a rack wouldnt really fit anyway,the damn things fastened to the wall good.and if you havent guess i live in an appartment : (.thanks again everyone,i really value all the input!!!davezilla,oops i meen dave : )
Don't discount decent wires and cables without first hand experience. Decent doesn't necessarily mean expensive, either. But DEFINITELY consider room treatments. That's the stage I'm at now and it's surprising what small things will do. For example, in my system there's a slight hardness to the upper range of vocals, especially female, that I've been chasing down. Almost a sibilance, but not quite. Tried vibration isolation and several different tubes in the pre- and DAC, but it persisted in one form or the other. Just moved and the previous tenant had a picture hanging on the wall where my speakers are now. Hung a blanket up on a whim and guess what was gone. Yep, the problem is apparently smearing caused by the reflection off the front wall. Picked out a nice wool wall hanging this weekend and will order it this week. Best of all, it comes out of the decor budget, not the equipment fund.
Dave- no one will laugh at your choice of music and you will find that many (most?) of the active posters enjoy popular (i.e., non-classical) music. I would have to say that in my experience changing speakers has a major impact on the character of the sound, while changing electronics has more impact on detail, soundstage, imaging, etc. I don't know your electronics but others say they are decent. I would think that for limited budget, cables would be a good way to go, cause you can add one pair at a time and purchase used with little chance of a operational defect. They aren't sexy, but they can have a major impact. DH Labs is well thought of in the modest price speaker wire dept., lots of choices for interconnects (AQ, Homegrown, DH Labs, better monsters, Kimber to name a few). If your budget is bigger, I would then consider pre or speakers next. Sd's point about a major step up is a good one, unless you enjoy the buying and selling. Someone once posted their rule of thumb (garfish maybe); need to spend double what you spent on the component your replacing (comparing new vs. new or used vs. used)to make a significant impact, assumming you've chosen equipment wisely. Seems reasonable to me, based on my experiences upgrading over the lasts 18 months.