What would you upgrade?

Hello, fellow audio enthusiasts. I'd like to get some opinions on what your next move would be if you had the following gear:

Signal Path:

MacBook Pro > DacMagic Plus > Dared Sl2000a or Bravo Audio Ocean v2 > Peachtree Decco 65 (pre mode) > Emotiva UPA-200 > Focal SW800 Sub > Focal 807VW or Totem Rainmakers

Clearly a lot of room for improvement here. Where would you start and what would be the reason?

Nothing is untouchable except the MacBook Pro.

Like the idea of towers/monoblocks.

$5000 budget for upgrades.

Thank you for any suggestions you can provide!
I have a Decco 65 in my office setup. It's a great piece of kit for the price. The onboard dac in the Peachtree is on a similar plane as the DacMagic. For the sake of simplicity and $$$ I'd personally go mac into the decco and put your money into new speakers you've listened to and love. If you want to move up a notch check out Peachtree's Grand X1 or a Naim SuperUniti.
something like the NuPrime IDA16 would take care of your DAC and amplification needs ... brand new so you would be hard pressed to find a USED model but maybe a demo ... list is just over $2k I believe

leaves a good chunk of change for speakers BUT the improvement with just the DAC/Amp maybe enough to rethink that upgrade for at least a bit
I would start with the Emotiva amp. Not sure if the Dared is a preamp, but if so, that would be next on the list for me.

The listening room, more space higher ceilings.
You will not go far with the Rainmakers.
I would put it all into a high quality integrated amp.
My suggestion is to update/upgrade your DAC with the latest Asynchronous USB input for your Mac. $299 for Parasound ZDac or $5999 for the newest PS Audio Directstream.
"Clearly a lot of room for improvement here."

Ummm...how exactly is that? That's nice equipment - you didn't get any of that by buying 10 gallons of premium unleaded at 7-11. What exactly is wrong with the sound currently coming out? Or is it just that you have $5K that is going nuclear in your pocket and you're absolutely positive that the grass must be greener?

I'm being serious, not sarcastic. Sure, you can definitely have nicer, more expensive equipment, but the OP has zero detail about the room all of that equipment is in, the kind of music being played on it, the quality of files being played, or how it sounds now. Seems like it's spending $5K just to spend $5K. Which is fine too - if that's the case, let us know - lots of cool ways to blow $5K in audio!
BCGator is spot on - what, exactly, are you not happy with about the system? Once you've figured that out you will know what to be looking for...

"...more space, higher ceilings..." What aisle is that on at Best Buy?

I think that your system seems well balanced, but since you did not mention it, I would have a look at power management and cables. Enjoy!
Thank you all for the great responses/recommendations.

1. I do have 5k going nuclear in my pocket. It's money that I've saved on the side specifically for this hobby.

2. High ceilings...definitely. Speakers are in a space that has a loft, but the speakers are in an area where there are 2 stories up before any ceiling space is hit. One side wall is 4 feet away, the other about 15. It's an odd space but it's home.

3. Listing to jazz, electronic, and rock primarily. 320kbs MP3 through Spotify from the MacBook Pro. Planning to add a turntable soon.

4. What I do not like about the current system:

A. High amont of distortion from the tube pre's, even after swapping the tubes (pretty good ones at that). Both may be defective, which annoys me considering both are less then a year old. Different distortion for each one, so it's definitely the amps. The Emo is dead quiet by itself, and I ran the pre out from the Peachtree through it with the same results.

B. I've heard some very nice sounding towers and it seems to have me longing for a speaker that has a fuller bottom end. I like the idea of going 2.0 as this is primarily a music system. The Focals drop out at 50hz and the Totems at 42hz, but that's at the expense of too much midrange in my opinion.

C. A twice repaired and still defective Decco65. 2 times the USB implementation has been repaired. It's been fine since the second repair about 6 months ago, but it's only got about 15 hours on that particular input because I no longer trust it, leaving DAC duty to the DacMagic. Additionaly, when at low volumes, the Peachtree clips out signal to the left speaker. The volume must be raised higher on the Peachtree's dial (then lowered on the computer) to get signal to both L and R. Though I do not think its a bad sounding amp, it does strike me as a bit on the warm side. I ran it into the tweets of the Totems (with the Emo's on the bottom) and the sound seemed very congested compared to the Emo being on the tweets. The bass was also flabbier with the Peachtree on the bottom. They may just not be a good match I suppose.

D. While the Dacmagic has been rock solid and reliable, I sometimes feel like the sound is a bit sterile. Too clean, I suppose, and almost a tough listen without tubes between it and the amp. I chalk it up mostly to the content it's being fed, so I suppose I am looking for a DAC/Amp combo that will be a little more forgiving of the less then stellar recording practices used by some of the musicians that I listen too.

I feel like a high quality tube pre or integrated could go a long way for the Focals, but I'm not sure I want to pick out an amp that will complement them should I decide to go for towers I the end.

Hopefully that sheds a bit more light. I apologize for being so vague in the original post.
Your Rainmakers are very limiting. I used to own them. They create a very low ceiling for you in terms of SQ.
Sabi, I agree. I really enjoy the Rainmakers for Jazz specifically, but in all other areas (except low end extension) they seem inferior to the Focals. I think the Totems will end up in the bedroom as background music to fall asleep too.
I would fix the music while you look at the components. Mp3s dont sound good in any system.
I'm thinking your answers - which are very helpful Hybrid81 - may alter the recommendations you get, especially the fact that we're talking about Spotify as the source, with a turntable in the future.

I have Spotify myself, and love it for the variety and convenience and discovering new artists. And it does sound good, better than listening to highly compressed MP3s of course, but as you have already discovered and acknowledged in your post above, it's not great. And the sound quality can vary dramatically, from beautiful to absolutely awful, depending on what they're using for their source. A great example is Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry", off the greatest hits album - I don't know why, but the bass is so horribly boosted that it's like listening in the back of a Honda CRX with 5 subwoofers, but not on the actual album, only on Spotify's version. I can't imagine trying to audition and pick speakers with Spotify as the source music. Actually, wouldn't critique any component based on Spotify, as much as I enjoy the service.

So I guess figure out what you plan to spend on a turntable, cartridge, and phono pre because I think your content source is obviously the weakest link in the chain, and even a $20,000 DAC won't change that, nor will the finest speakers in all the land.

After the turntable, look at new speakers - you're not crazy about what you have and speakers will change the results more than anything else, in my opinion, including the pre-amp and amp.

Hope some of this helps...most of the dudes on here know a heck of a lot more than I do. My system is pretty pedestrian compared to what most here have.
I would investigate integrated amps. Of the 5K budget what is allocated for turntable and phono stage? Is the Mac used for internet radio only?
I wish I had $5K going nuclear in my pocket.

I think your first step is to figure out a direction to head. You seem to want more extension to both ends of the spectrum, if I understand correctly, and more clarity/incisiveness of each note.

I'm with Sabai in that your Rainmakers are limiting. I've heard them and liked them for what they were (inexpensive small speakers). They initially sound much bigger than they are, with a nice full sound, until you realize that they're exaggerating the mid-bass because they have essentially no bass extension, and the top end is a little closed in.

I haven't head the Focal, but if you like the Totem sound, here is my suggestion:

Speakers: Totem Hawks (consider also the Forest)
(Alternative: PSB Stratus Silver or Silver i)
Integrated Amp: Plinius 8200

You can find both of these used pretty easily and well under your price range. I think this will definitely help you achieve what you're looking for, although the comment above about your source material is a valid one. I would stick with your DAC Magic for now and only look to upgrading if if/when you get better quality sources (CD quality or better). I think the Plinius has a phono input, so you wouldn't necessarily need a stand-alone phono preamp for your turntable.

Sell the Rainmakers, Peachtree, and Emotiva. You will be MUCH happier with the sound.

Thank you all for the responses!

BCgator, I agree on the source material not being of the finest quality, no doubt about it. I thinks that's why I'm looking for a setup that is a little more forgiving then what I currently have.

The DirectSteam DAC looks really nice, but the focus seems to be on CD's and DSD. I do not own any CD's, only a vinyl collection that's been collecting dust for about 10 years. Have not really looked hard at DSD yet because I can not find much content that I would enjoy listening too. Truthfully I have not looked that hard because I do not have a DSD capable DAC.

Regarding a turntable, I'd like to stay somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 assuming the amp/pre I end up with has a phono stage. If not, I would probably budget around $700.

I'm starting to think that selling off my entire amp/speaker setup and reinvesting might be the way to go, not to mention it would increase my budget to around 8k. That changes things a bit.

Michael, regarding the Totem Hawks, I plan to listen to them tomorrow at a shop in New Jersey. They seem to be on AG on a regular basis at good prices. I feel good about the Rainmakers regarding Jazz but nothing else, really. Are the Hawks that different that they'll be able to cover more types of music comfortably? I plan to research the Plinous tonight. Any other recommendations for a full ranger that covers rock/jazz/electronic well? Starting with the speaker and working backwards would seem to make the most sense.

Thank you all again for taking the time. Regardless of how long it takes or where it ends up, I'll report back once the dust settles.
Weak sources and now wants to add cheap turntable. Not how I'd do it.
Agreed, noromance. Scratch the turntable all together. If I'm heavily investing in dead formats I might as well go out an buy a SACD player.

Which reminds me..

Any OPPO owners in this thread? I've read amazing things about its capabilities as a DAC and could kill 2 birds with one stone using it for bluray as well. Any users with any of the tube modified ones?
I must agree with Noromance. Quality of a system begins at the source. If my budget for a turntable, arm and cartridge is $700, then I would budget no more than $1000-1500 on amplification to include phonostage. Probably about the same for speakers. I would then spend the rest at record stores. I believe you could put together a fine sounding system for under half your $8000 total budget. If I had to spend $8000, I would cons ider turntables in the $2000 range. Spotify is great for background music, and finding new artists when not spinning records.
I would replace your dac (definitely one of the most limiting items in your stack) with the Berkeley Dac on sale here for just under $2,000. That leaves you $3k and, even though I like the rainmakers in a small, nearfield system, spend $3k on the larger totems and see where you are. Five grand can do alot, or a little... but, dont do this to listen to 320kps material. Better ff blowing the five grand on a girl or vacation. (vinyl and sacd are not dead formats - they blow away anything you have been listening to).
Hi Mesch.

Thanks for the reply.

You touch on point worthy of discussion. How we listen.

The way I listen is primarily the 'background music' way, with my stereo in the background while I'm doing something else. No dedicated listening room with one chair in the middle. Nothing wrong with that at all, just nothing right about it for me.

Most of the time I'm not listening super critically. Just looking for a fuller range of sound then what I currently have speaker wise, as well as higher quality components then the ones that I'm having some trouble with at the moment. I'm planning on going to demo a pair of 1027be tomorrow if possible as I'm not ruling out the Focal sound all together. They might get 75% of the way there if all goes well.

Regarding formats, perhaps "on life support" is a better way to put it, Cerrot.

That's not to say their sound quality is not more enjoyable, as I know vinyl to sometimes be. Which is why I've considered adding a turntable in the first place.

Still, 25-40% of the budget would be overkill for an item that would be used less then 25% of the time, in my opinion. I'd sooner take that money and invest more in a DAC to max my return on digital playback.
What stands out to me is the relationship between speakers and your unusually high ceilings. The proper synergy here will do more for your overall presentation goal than any electronics choices you may be considering.

I would seek a professional suggestion as to possible speaker directions. At the very least go to speaker specific forums and clearly describe your room. Give your budget as twice what your willing to spend and consider those suggestions on the used market.

What your looking for is a more specific type of speaker such as, high efficiency, horn, open baffle, panel, etc.. Don't leave out your using a subwoofer. A clear direction here will determine any future electronics upgrades.

I just heard Kipod server/streamer feeding a Direct Stream DAC and it left me thinking that Hi-Rez media clearly isn't the total digital solution. Getting the most from ones collection of 16/41 recordings is far more important than rebuying a library into Hi-Rez.

I'm not a digital vs analog user, I'm into the music. So if it's not on an LP, no worries, the selection of affordable and listenable digital sources continues to grow. Source selection, digital or analog, is a very personal consideration. IMO, Ted Smith's work on the Digital Stream is as dramatic as Gordon Rankin's was on USB. Fortunately for me, my LP collection is much larger than my digital.

If you're considering LP playback, advancements in cartridge setup, especially in rake angle and azimuth adjustments can be more important than the money spent on the hardware. Complete tonearm adjustability is very important.
" 320kbs MP3 through Spotify "

This is the weak link in my opinion. Try HDTracks.com and spend about $20 on a download you love. See if you notice a distinct difference.

If you do, spend the $5k on speakers, preferably very slightly used....upgrade one thing at a time, and make it a big deal.....don't spread it around too thin.

I wish you the best of luck!!!!
Thanks, Paul.

I'm noticing a trend here. Everyone is very emphatic about the source. Perhaps I will give HDtracks another go. Maybe my system with turn into something completely different then I've been used to. Only drawback is there is significantly less content available at this point.

I do like the "buy the best you can afford" idea instead do spreading thin, though. Maybe 1 major upgrade every 3-5 years.
Upgrade everything ASAP!!!
M-dab, I like the idea about speaker specific forums. I should take some photos and get some suggestions on how I could best handle the room situation. I can also use the loft upstairs and take care of a lot do the issue I face setting up downstairs, however, that's a much smaller room with quite low ceilings. Worth getting opinions for sure.

I ended up demoing the 1028BE's today and really enjoyed them. It looks like I'll be able to get great trade value on both sets of speakers and the sub so I think I'll be pulling the trigger on them this week. I think they'd overpower the loft so downstairs might be the only option.

I'll be bringing the Peachtree/MacBook Pro in to demo with the Focals. Should he interesting too see how they play together.
Yes, Hybrid, I think there is an underlying message in a lot of the responses. While many of us enjoy Spotify and/or MP3 streams (when we have to), you just can't judge components based on them. Trying to buy better components in order to make Spotify sound good is sort of like...wanting to make Filet au Poivre, and all you've got is cheap hamburger meat in the fridge, and deciding that hamburger meat will make a better Filet au Poivre if only you had a better stove :-)

You can buy better components, and I'm sure you'll enjoy them and they'll sound good, but they may still not sound as good as if you fed your current system better material. I see you're set to buy some new speakers, that should be a great start, but you may only end up happy when you finally upgrade your source too - until then you're still trying to make Filet au Poivre from hamburger meat (And it doesn't even have to be HDTracks...just FLAC/AIFF/WAV files fed into a decent DAC can sound superb, that's all I'm doing).
I hear ya. The dealer was giving me crap about it, too. I have plenty of CD rips of long gone disks as well as a plethora of FLAC files on my computer that I fire up on occasion, but I always seem to come back to Spotify. I think I enjoy music discovery more then anything else these days.

Best part was that I brought my girlfriend with me to the demo. She fell more in love with the 1028be's then I did (though I really enjoyed them as well). She was able to easily differentiate between them and the Aria 936, which was kind of cool to hear. She's going to invest in a CD player since we have a shop nearby with a massive selection and she's actually quite adamant about upgrading now. Regardless of where the journey takes us, life is good.
Hey Hybrid81, just a couple of quick notes on Spotify. I noticed tonight that there seems to be a sound quality difference between using the Spotify web player vs. the Spotify PC application - web player doesn't sound as good. The PC app has the setting for "high quality" and I can't find that same setting for the web player, which may be the reason, or one of them.

Also, when using the PC application, make sure you uncheck the box for "set the volume level for all tracks". That also made a nice difference for me - on my setup having that box checked dulled the bass dramatically, and rolled off the highs.

You probably already know both of these, but mentioning them just in case...
Thanks again for the reply, Bcgator. I played around with the volume level setting after your recommendation and I, too, noticed a difference. I guess it's applying some kind of compression to keep all tracks at the same level. Great find for sure.

Additionally, iOS version of spotify finally brought the EQ back. I believe it's a 6 band. Made my day when I saw it.

I went out and bought some CD's the other day as well. I can not argue that they don't sound better then MP3, which I always knew, but needed a refresher. Xbox One will suffice as a transport for now.

Just as an update to the gear quest, heading to the shop tomorrow morning to order the 1028be. I do not expect the Decco65 to floor me when the 2 are combined. It looks like my next focus will be on amplification.
Sorry to bump this again, but now that the speakers have been chosen, I'm looking specifically for an integrated amp.

While the Decco65 has been problamatic at times, the thing that was great about it was it was a DAC, preamp, and amp all in one with a volume control.

Right now I'm leaning towards a refurbished Grand Integrated X-1 for $3000 primarily because I do not know of good competing products in that price range. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Home Theater is not a concern as the speakers will be 90% music 10% video games and movies.

Thank you!
Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum?
That's what I have, Hybrid81, I bought a Grand X-1 Refurb. If you have any questions about it, just let me know or send a message. I'm very happy with it, though I don't have any experience with the particular speakers you purchased so I can't speak to the specific combo you'd be creating.
Noromance, any particular reason you'd mention the Rogue amp? The price is certainly right, but do you think it will have enough power in the long run? I read up a bit on that amp and it seems quite user friendly regarding basing and such. I would also need to add a dac/digital pre to get all of my sources (tv, AppleTV, Xbox One, computer) routed to it.

Bcgator, I'm guessing the x-1 functions very similarly to the Decco65, only it performs better in most respects. I loved the convenience of the D65 with all of its digital inputs. And a remote...need that remote for sure. It seems like a great fit.
I've never owned a Decco65, but from looking at the description page it seems similar in that it's an all-in-one box. What I like about the Grand X-1 is that it has really nice build quality, just feels and looks great. It has truckloads of power. It has a great DAC based on the ESS9018 chip. Their USB implementation is fantastic, asynch with galvanic isolation and XMOS chip - if people could hear the sound I'm getting just running a $10 Belkin USB from my computer to the Grand, there'd be a lot less criticism of USB as a transfer medium.

The X-1 has a nicer tube buffer than the Decco, though I don't use it a lot. If I have a crap recording I'll turn it on, like a couple of days ago I put on some early Pat Benatar which was just a lousy recording, really thin-sounding and strident. I turned on the buffer for that, and it softens the highs and makes it a little warmer and more listenable. But I don't use it a lot because the amp has a nice neutral sound on its own - it's not cold or bright sounding and doesn't need tube "help". If the recording is nice, the music comes out nice.

If you like the excitement of buying separates, and creating the whole combination yourself, you wouldn't buy one. But that's what I was after - one box that made it simple. My system couldn't be easier - computer to Grand X-1 to speakers, that's it.

Best compliment I can pay the X-1 is that I also have an Audio Research VSi55 integrated, and I struggle to tell them apart, other than that the X-1 can play a lot louder.

Objectively, though, at this price level of $3K I don't think you'll make a bad decision. Whether it's the Grand, or a Hegel, or something from Rogue, or W4S or Bel Canto, I don't know that there are any bad answers here. Lots of great choices, I'm sure you'll end up happy.