Originally Posted by hifisponge
you mentioned an area that I haven't had much luck in, and that is the "source". (Assuming that you mean front)
...I have limted experience and equally limted success with front-end gear.
What have you tried so far, and what's your budget? And do you want strictly HT or two channel setup?
I find sometimes surprisingly little gain or difference between many components I tried, and I tried many. THERE ARE still components that will impress you and some that will blow your mind away. It's just that true jewels are so rare and not always correlated with the price that it's hard to find them.
It took my a looooong journey to settle on my current amp (Art Audio Adagio), and SACD/CD player (Audio Aero Prestige SACD). No preamp in my system as Prestige SACD has built in good tube preamp, so I go directly to amp. After so many hits and misses and subtle improvements, this combination is so clearly
better than anything else I tried; I think even tone deaf person would recognize it.
Another case in point about differences and price points, just this weekend at RMAF in Colorado, there was a guy with a new company who is modifying CD players for about $2k. He was showcasing fairly inexpensive Denon universal player, which he modified and he was comparing it to EMM Labs $10k player and to Esoteric $14k model. He was using exactly the same cable and same CD, amplification, speakers; player alone was a variable.
I guess he was trying to point out how good his modification is, but I think poor guy, he must have very bad hearing. His modified Denon was so aweful in sound, grainy, closed in, brittle, I could hardly wait for for even a minute to pass. Then he switched to EMM Labs, and suddenly as all the heavens broke lose. I've never heard in my life clearer, more relaxed digital sound, well digital or analog. It was as if someone swithced to the best mastered virgin vinyl on $100k analog system. But it was just Ed Meitner SACD/CD. I was impressed!
Now the funny thing is next room was Esoteric Audio room and he invited one of the top gun guys from that company to listen to this presentation. So it was three of us sitting quietly, doors closed, totally focused moment.
It was obvious that this Esoteric guy heard all the differences as he was quiet, especially when he switched from EMM Labs to $14k Esoteric.
I fully expected that Esoteric being more expensive, plus this is their top model gear, would sound even better, or at least not worse than EMM.
I couldn't be more surprised when Esoteric was woefully behind. It was not nearly as bad as practically unlistenable Denon, but it was so much behind EMM that I was startled! It was as if someone put a blanket or pillow on both speakers, I was agape, I couldn't believe the difference in sound can be so great between two source components. We went back and forth for the good 15 minutes, between vocal, saxophone, band, and each time there was startling clarity coming out of EMM. Saxophone on Esoteric sounded muted, muffled; on EMM it was crystal clear, with all the rich timbre you expect from live instrument. This was the clearest presentation ever between two source components and truly shocking; probably qualifies for the greatest surprise at this show, or any show I attended.
Now, I clearly have no vested interest to praise EMM. I've never heard before neither EMM nor Esoteric in a controlled environment. Also my Audio Aero is so good sounding, by far the best I've ever heard in my room, that I'm curious now how it would fare compared directly to EMM Labs.
But the point is hifisponge, that the source components do sound different, don't give up, although I agree you have to dig a lot to sift through all "me to" products to find the right one. If you heard my system, I'm pretty confident you would be impressed.
I know because it took me a lot of patience, money and time to come to this. Believe me, I understand your "pain." I've been through that. And still, I'm not done yet. I'm looking for beter cables, my acoustics in this house are FAR from perfect. But I can't change it in my current situation. I need a new turntable as well.
As much as this show presentation impressed me, I'm shocked how many components are out there that are very expensive and totally mediocre sounding. This hobby seems to attract enthusiasts, but also people who are trying to make a buck and think it's enough to slap $10k price so people will take you seriously. I've seen a great share of those very mediocre components and makes me sick how expensive they are with no benefits whatsoever in sound quality.