Featured What Is Your Point Of Diminishing Return With Audio Gear?

Discussion in 'General Audio' started by Carbonman, Feb 10, 2017.

  1. I'm done; sound quality & equipment flexibility is right where I want it.

    3 vote(s)
    60.0%
  2. Have a ways to go; budget for the good stuff isn't there yet.

    1 vote(s)
    20.0%
  3. I'd like to have a real stereo instead of what's at my PC/work station/portable.

    1 vote(s)
    20.0%
  4. Better isn't going to happen until the kids are old enough to not destroy it.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  5. What fun is it to settle - new toys are my hobby!

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  6. There's just one more piece I need to make my stereo/home theater perfect.

    1 vote(s)
    20.0%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Carbonman

    Carbonman AGC Regular

    84
    Aug 27, 2016
    Vancouver BC
    I know this is a broad title but I'm thinking about the point with various components when you say 'enough', where improvements in frequency response, detail, sound stage, dynamic range, impact and other factors finally come close enough to your criteria for listening pleasure. I'm pretty much at that point with my system and don't see spending more as a solution that improves anything in a meaningful way.
    My turntable was a big step up in absence of rumble and a real sense of 'black' background over my previous Thorens TD160 Mk.II. The cartridge has all the detail and extension I could want without harshness. Music sounds more real than with my previous Stanton 681EEE-S.
    My CD player works well and sounded great using its internal DAC. Music isn't harsh or edgy unless the production made it that way. Sound is detailed without an etched quality. I had heard very slightly better with the MCD201 that I'd owned and wanted that additional increment of improvement again. My outboard DAC made enough difference that I'm happy with the CD sound, plus I can run my Blu-Ray, TV and other digital sources through it as well.
    My amplifier and preamp are as good as I can imagine using in a non-dedicated room. There's no harshness or softness, bass is well controlled and I can't imagine a realistic improvement that wouldn't cost at least $20K. It's not going to happen, even if I won a lottery.
    My speakers are easily driven, have lots of dynamics and extended tight bass. They are one of the least fatiguing speakers I've ever listened to but have tremendous detail. Any change would involve me having too much money and wanting 'the best'. I've listened extensively to pairs of speakers up to $150K and some of them quite frankly didn't sound as good as what I have in my livingroom.
    Interconnects and speaker wires I've got to the point where I'm unwilling to spend more despite hearing small improvements in overall sound quality when A-B testing with ICs that cost twice as much. I've halved the cost of ICs and maintained the same sound quality by making some of my own with OCC bulk cable and Eichmann Bullet Plugs.
    In my experience, speaker wires don't make a big difference unless there are factors that make the amp/speaker interface poorly matched or unstable. Neither my power amp or speakers fall into these categories. I'll continue to use my no longer available TDK OCC speaker cables probably forever.
    What are your thoughts on climbing the audio sonics ladder?
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017
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  2. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    152
    Aug 27, 2016
    Milwaukee, WI
    My current set-up sounds great to me. Very "natural"....no obvious coloration of any sort. But I was recently over at my local hi-fi dealer and he was burning in a new DAC for a customer while he was away on vacation. I sat down to enjoy some music for awhile since I had about a half an hour to kill before the eveniing rush hour was going to start.

    They had a much smaller set-up in their main room than normal as someone had just been in to audition a pair of speakers. I was pretty blown away by the sound. The system represented a lot more than I can spend right now. But it wasn't an insane amount like I've heard before. Some $6,000 speakers and around $6k in amplification. Counting the DAC and the music server and associated cables and whatnot, it was all under $20k. Waaaaaay more than I can spend on a system all at once, but if wanted it bad enough, I could probably target one piece a year and eventually get there.

    But now I'm back home and enjoying music and everything sounds great. The memory of the sound of that other system is fading. I'm going to audition a pair of speakers in a couple months, but outside of that, I'm happy for now.
     
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  3. Carbonman

    Carbonman AGC Regular

    84
    Aug 27, 2016
    Vancouver BC
    I consider speakers the single most important item in any sound system. They are the most variable component sonically and provide the limitations that other components and cables can't overcome. I'm convinced that I could replace all of my digital and electronic pieces with any of the reasonably well made products in the marketplace and still have 'good enough' sound for all but critical listening sessions.
     
  4. marlof

    marlof AGC Rookie

    21
    Aug 27, 2016
    I'm not an audiophile. I never cared about cables, connections and that stuff. That said, I do care about sound quality. Since I'm the only one who likes to actually listen to music at home, the common room has a B&O tv and 5.1 system with a Sonos Connect. Sounds okay for its purpose (mostly background), but not suitable for detailed listening. My study has an old Marantz receiver, a Sonos Connect and recent B&W 685 bookshelved. These speakers keep me amazed about their quality, and are again great for their purpose. I currently like to listen music mostly in another room, where I have a pretty recent NAD integrated amp (C355 BEE), again a Sonos Connect and the Impulse loudspeakers I had in university (a Dutch brand of transmission line speakers). I keep thinking about replacing those speakers, even when they still sound pretty decent. So, on the fence about that.
    It doesn't help that a good friends wife comes from a family owning one of the best hifi stores around.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2017
  5. Carbonman

    Carbonman AGC Regular

    84
    Aug 27, 2016
    Vancouver BC
    I never cared about cables until I read some commentary about Ohno Continuous Cast long-crystal copper wire and was able to get a hot deal on some Harmonic Technology interconnects that use this wire. I didn't really expect what I heard - the difference was astounding. I then bought some bulk OCC cable and started to make my own. It sounds every bit as good but costs a fraction of what the fancy poly mesh jacketed cables do.
    The OCC speaker cables didn't make the same difference. There was a small change, but not enough to let me rave about or condemn one cable over another.
    If you can get a good deal on better sounding speakers, especially if you can audition them in your home system, why not?
     
  6. stratokaster

    stratokaster AGC Rookie

    17
    Aug 28, 2016
    I always try to find audio equipment which is both inexpensive and sounds good to my ears, which means a lot of DIY. Right now I need to assemble a new system because I moved from Ukraine to another country (and sold most of my audio gear in the process). But it's already quite obvious that this new system will not be too exotic.

    As far as cables go, VDH The Name is probably the highest I'm willing to go. I think they sound a bit better than cheap no name cables and they're also quite inexpensive. I also like to use them as phono cables because of their low stray capacitance. (Phono cables actually DO make a lot of difference, at least with MM cartridges. For line level signals, the difference is not nearly as pronounced.)

    Turntables: these waters are incredibly murky, and increase in price sometimes comes with reduction in performance. (For example, Rega RB300 tonearm and its variants is worse sonically than its cheaper cousin — RB250 — because it has only one horizontal bearing. Duh.) I've had many turntables and I like vintage idler-drive sound the most. Direct drive is close second, and I think most posh belt-drive turntables lack the raw energy needed to convey presence. They sound refined, but lifeless. This is especially true for turntables that are in essence nothing more than a sheet of particle board, an (anemic) synchronous motor and an acrylic platter. These turntables are a total rip-off. As usual: this is just my opinion, YMMV, etc.

    For me, a nicely restored idler-drive turntable is all I need to spin my records happily. I'd take Lenco over Thorens TD124 any day of the week and twice on Sunday. But I have discovered that Duals are also very nice. They probably are the last great bargain of vintage audio: audiophiles tend to despise them because on some of Dual's best models the platter is smaller than 12". Also these turntables are fully integrated and (gasp!) fully automatic. Still, somehow they manage to sound awesome. Last year, I restored a Dual 1019 for a friend. I built a custom multilayered plinth for the little Dual and equipped it with a second tonearm transplanted from a defunct Ariston turntable. With this arrangement, a user can have the best of both worlds: fully automatic playback for parties and background music, and fully manual playback for more serious moments. I like the result so much that I'm thinking of making something similar for myself. And the total cost of such a setup is still less than a stock Rega P2 which sounds much, much less exciting.

    Phono cartridges: the best cartridge I have ever heard was Decca Gold rebuilt to Super Gold specs and retipped with a Paratrace stylus. This is the stuff of dreams: so dynamic, and yet very spacious and totally natural! But the price is cringe-inducing, to say the least. Even Decca Maroon is very expensive, although still better than most cartridges out there. I think Denon DL103 or Goldring Eroica is about as far as I'm prepared to venture in the MC land, and Nagaoka MP200, with its boron cantilever and nude elliptical stylus, is the best reasonably expensive MM cartridge out there. It sounds very smooth and beats the hell out of comparably-priced Ortofons and Audio-Technicas, as far as I'm concerned. Surprisingly, I also happen to like some of Shure's DJ carts. I think SC35C is excellent for use in heavier tonearms (one of my friends calls it a "poor man's DL103"), and its "Hi-Fi" cousin M35X is also no slouch, especially when playing older records. Not bad for a cartridge that can be had for as low as $39 (if you shop carefully).

    Phono stage: right now I'm running an inexpensive (total bill of materials: $150, about half of which were spent on the case and the transformer) DIY phono stage which is actually better than most commercial solutions because it allows for proper loading of different cartridges. With this DIY phono preamp, I can select different capacitance and resistance to better match various cartridges (surprisingly, this is not possible with most commercial phono stages). I hope one day I will build a DIY tube phono stage based on the famous EAR834P schematic. I also have an old Dual step-up transformer for use with low-output MC cartridges. I suspect it's probably a rather mediocre SUT and it definitely won't hold a candle to something like Lundahl, but I have nothing to compare it to and the combination of my DIY phono stage and this inexpensive SUT still sounds better than any MC-compatible preamp in this price range.

    Speakers: I actually don't have a lot of experience here. My last speakers were a DIY affair using Fostex full-range drivers. They sounded very clean and lifelike, but obviously both the top and the low end were a bit lacking. But since I've spent most of my life in apartment buildings, I don't listen to music through speakers at significant sound pressure levels because I don't want to disturb my neighbours.

    Before my Fostex, I used some vintage speakers from Philips and Telefunken ("German school") and Celestion and Wharfedale ("British school"). Those old speakers with their lightweight paper transducers and closed-box designs have a very appealing sound, although they also have quite a lot of "colouration" by today's standards. In the end I preferred the sound of my small full-range speakers because of their cleanliness and neutrality.

    Speaker amps: my last amp was a custom-built (not by me) single-ended tube amplifier that matched my full range speakers quite well. But since to me both speakers and speaker amps are just an afterthought, I'm pretty sure I would be happy with any reasonably clean amplifier. In fact, I'm thinking of building a class-T chipamp for my next setup and throwing in a tube buffer to sweeten its sound. And my last "preamp" was basically just a passive box with a source selector and a stepped volume control which added nothing to the sound.

    Headphones: I listen to 90% of my music through headphones. At home, I use a pair of HiFiMan HE-400S modded with better earpads, some additional enclosure damping and a DIY cable (made with Oyaide silver-coated cable and high-quality Viablue connectors). In this modified form, those headphones are 99% as good as significantly more expensive HE-400i. They are definitely not the best headphones in the world, but they are ridiculously good for the price. And unlike any other planar magnetic headphones, they are very easy to drive, I can plug them straight into my laptop or tablet and get acceptable sound. For listening on the go, I use MEE Audio Pinnacle P1. These earphones are amazing. They are a bit lean in the bass department, but their midrange and highs are incredibly sweet. Also they produce the best soundstage I have ever heard in earphones. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I think they produce better soundstage than many large over-the-ear headphones...

    Headphone amp: in my main system my headphones are connected to Schiit Magni 2 headphone amplifier. Once again, this is not a giant-killer, but it's very nice. I compared it to the headphone amp section of Fostex HP-A4 (which is a DAC/amplifier combo, but also literally 5 times as expensive as Schiit) and it actually held its own. It is also significantly better than comparably price headphone amps from FiiO, xDuoo, Bravo Audio, Aune and other Chinese companies.

    Digital sources: I gave away my entire Audio CD collection. As such, I don't have a CD player and I don't expect ever buying one in the future. Before that, I used a modded Philips CD650 (with the famous TDA1541 DAC) as my CD player.

    I use a Raspberry Pi with Hifiberry DAC to stream music from Spotify. I also use an inexpensive DAC/Headphone amp combo together with my laptop.
     
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  7. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    152
    Aug 27, 2016
    Milwaukee, WI
    I should like to know more about your DIY phonostage. I'm too busy now to even formulate some questions, but maybe this post will remind me to pursue more at a later date.
     
  8. stratokaster

    stratokaster AGC Rookie

    17
    Aug 28, 2016
    Luke, the schematic itself is fairly standard; in fact, I lifted it straight out of the original RIAA white paper. But I added some capacitors (from 6.8 pF to 330 pF) as well as some resistors (from 12kOhm to 1 MOhm) in parallel to the input together with DIP switches to turn them on and off. That's all :)

    But the difference it makes is striking. For example, many people complain that AT cartridges sound shrill; that's because for most MM Audio-Technicas the optimal capacitive loading is ~150pF; most phono stages are 220pF, and when you add capacitance of your phono cable (which is usually about 100-150pF), you end up with approximately 300-370pF of total capacitance which is way higher than the required value and inevitably leads to shifting the resonant frequency of the cartridge into the audible range, which is perceived as "shrillness." With proper loading, those cartridges are not shrill at all!
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2017
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