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post #1 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 12:17 PM - Thread Starter
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Frustrated new audiophile

OK – I’m a new “audiophile”. What am I missing or doing wrong here:
I’m considering purchasing a stereo amp just for listening to music. I currently have an AVR and was thinking a good 2 channel amp would improve things “music-wise”. But my recent amp testing has me doubting this.

I currently have:
Denon X3400h AVR (100 watts per channel, AB amp)
KEF LS50 speakers
PS Audio Stellar Gain DAC

The Stellar DAC is fed music via my Logitech Touch via coax SPDIF. From the DAC, the analog out is split and sent to each amp’s analog inputs (RCA Y cable). The Denon is set on “Pure Direct” which disables room correction and the subwoofer. That makes things even between the 2 amps. (My music is a mix of 16bit/44.1 flac and higher res DSD files).

I don’t trust my memory when it comes to sound. So, I purchased a speaker A/B switch. I connect this to the LS50’s and then to the two amp’s speaker outs I will be comparing. I also take my time to make sure the volume is the same between the each amp. I typically listen at less than 70db. Using the switch I’m able to instantly switch between the two and easily tell the sound difference. Right? No relying on my memory.

But, here’s the deal.
I’ve compared an old mid-level Yamaha AVR I’ve had for years and a new PS Audio Sprout 100 to the Denon. The sound difference between them all is nil, zilch. I’ve tried many genres of music and most of the time I can’t tell I’ve pressed the AB switch at all. After many tests, I’ve had maybe one or two times where I discerned a slight difference. You know where I can say to myself, OK, the bass is better, tighter here with this amp. But that’s been very rare.

It shouldn’t be like this right? I’ve read so many amp reviews where all these superlatives are stated about the differences between amps. Granted I’ve only compared 3 amps – but geese, I would have thought there would have been a considerable difference between them.

Any input would be appreciated.
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post #2 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 12:44 PM
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Congrats, you figured it out - the reviews/marketing are bogus. Try removing the DAC and just run the Denon, I bet you wont notice any difference either.
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post #3 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 01:58 PM
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Separate amps are one of the worst investments you can make, unless you are driving concert levels or a true theater space at reference levels.

In most home usages, a quality AVR is plenty enough and offers ample headroom for clean sound.
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post #4 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 02:55 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pbz06 View Post
Separate amps are one of the worst investments you can make, unless you are driving concert levels or a true and massive theater space.

In most home usages, a quality AVR is plenty enough and offers ample headroom for clean sound.
I think you may be right. The only real time I made a appreciable improvement with the sound was buying the LS50 speakers.

Though, I have to wonder about the people out there reviewing amps - are they doing A/B testing? They rarely describe their technique. I bet most are relying on their memory. I think that's VERY subjective.
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post #5 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 03:12 PM
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I’m no audiophile but I do know this, it’s mostly about the speakers.
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post #6 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 03:15 PM
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Well the good news is that, since you have discovered that amps don't have a sound(the speakers do!), you have just saved yourself from spending a lot of unnecessary money on an "upgrade" that doesn't actually change how your system sounds.

Do you have a sub? This is an area that could potentially make a drastic improvement in sound quality for you. Better yet, maybe a pair. I'd start with REW and a Umik-1 and just take a look at your response.
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post #7 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 04:32 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bear123 View Post
Well the good news is that, since you have discovered that amps don't have a sound(the speakers do!), you have just saved yourself from spending a lot of unnecessary money on an "upgrade" that doesn't actually change how your system sounds.

Do you have a sub? This is an area that could potentially make a drastic improvement in sound quality for you. Better yet, maybe a pair. I'd start with REW and a Umik-1 and just take a look at your response.
Yeah, I'm beginning to accept that - I think. Still can't help wondering if I'm missing something. I've done some googling and I'm not alone here. There's definitely a "all amps sound pretty much the same" contingency.

I do have a sub (a KEF). The LS50's do benefit with having a sub.

Of course with the idea of a new amp set aside, I'm thinking - whats a better bookshelf speaker than the LS50's ;-)
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post #8 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 05:41 PM
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Originally Posted by tpro8 View Post
Yeah, I'm beginning to accept that - I think. Still can't help wondering if I'm missing something. I've done some googling and I'm not alone here. There's definitely a "all amps sound pretty much the same" contingency.

I do have a sub (a KEF). The LS50's do benefit with having a sub.

Of course with the idea of a new amp set aside, I'm thinking - whats a better bookshelf speaker than the LS50's ;-)
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I think KEF's are no slouch in the sound quality category. As far as amps go, there are some speakers with very difficult to drive loads i.e low impedance that require a lot of power. Some lower cost amps or AVR's might not have the capability needed to drive such speakers, in which case a "better" amp can make a difference. But typical speakers that are easy to drive...the few watts required will sound the same wether its a $500 Denon AVR or a $10,000 piece of audio jewelry. Basically if you have enough power from a well designed amp/AVR with a flat frequency response, inaudible levels of distortion, driving a load it can handle, there won't be a difference.

For speakers, if you really want to upgrade and sound quality is the objective, just buy or audition speakers that meet this criteria...pretty good chance you'll be on the right track:

https://www.avsforum.com/forum/89-sp...nce-shows.html

I would still recommend getting a mic and measuring. $100 one time investment that you can use over the years. A nice even response below 300Hz makes a pretty substantial difference in sound quality IME. Without measuring, I doubt many people have an accurate response in the lower frequencies. Also, do you feel like placement in the room is fairly optimal?
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post #9 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 05:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tpro8 View Post
I think you may be right. The only real time I made a appreciable improvement with the sound was buying the LS50 speakers.

Though, I have to wonder about the people out there reviewing amps - are they doing A/B testing? They rarely describe their technique. I bet most are relying on their memory. I think that's VERY subjective.
A reviewer gets products to review by giving flowery subjective praise. You'd run out of manufacturers sending you equipment to review if your review said, "this amp/AVR sounds really good, just like all the other amps/AVR's out there that are operated within their clean output capabilities."
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post #10 of 35 Old 05-04-2019, 06:17 PM
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Even before thinking about replacing the speakers look at sound treatments for the room. This is the largest area available to help sound quality and arguably more important than even the equipment producing the sound.


Wouldn't want to go without the sub either, even 1899's benefits from a sub. Gets the subs right and the KEF's will sound huge.
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post #11 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 07:55 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bear123 View Post
I think KEF's are no slouch in the sound quality category. As far as amps go, there are some speakers with very difficult to drive loads i.e low impedance that require a lot of power. Some lower cost amps or AVR's might not have the capability needed to drive such speakers, in which case a "better" amp can make a difference. But typical speakers that are easy to drive...the few watts required will sound the same wether its a $500 Denon AVR or a $10,000 piece of audio jewelry. Basically if you have enough power from a well designed amp/AVR with a flat frequency response, inaudible levels of distortion, driving a load it can handle, there won't be a difference.

For speakers, if you really want to upgrade and sound quality is the objective, just buy or audition speakers that meet this criteria...pretty good chance you'll be on the right track:

https://www.avsforum.com/forum/89-sp...nce-shows.html

I would still recommend getting a mic and measuring. $100 one time investment that you can use over the years. A nice even response below 300Hz makes a pretty substantial difference in sound quality IME. Without measuring, I doubt many people have an accurate response in the lower frequencies. Also, do you feel like placement in the room is fairly optimal?

Regarding measuring the room - I assume you're referring to Dirac Live. Yeah, I've casually looked into this. I'm not sure if I want to go down that "rabbit hole". Of course I would need an amp that is compatible with Dirac.

My current Denon has Audyssey 32. I found that while this room correction improves the sound for TV & movies, it actually ruins 2 channel music's soundstage. Not sure if Dirac would be any different.


I'm also considering taking advantage of some amp manufacturer's policy of allowing time for a "home tryout". Like Schiit's 15 day tryout. Because so far my "sample size" of amps is not really very good. I'm still curious if a decent stereo amp would still make a hear-able difference.

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post #12 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 08:06 AM
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Good work on the testing. The only time a standalone amp will prevail over the receiver's amp section is if you are needing more watts than the receiver can deliver, but power needs become exponential as the volume requests go up, so unless your standalone amp is SIGNIFICANTLY more powerful than what's in your receiver, there still won't be any difference. Since you are listening in the 70db range (which is VERY low), you are probably using less than 1 watt per speaker.

I agree with @tooslow2 on both accounts - that standalone DAC isn't doing you any favors either, the Denon's DACs are more than capable. Room treatments are inexpensive and make an audible improvement.

Regarding Audyssey, is the 3400 compatible with the Audyssey app? If so, the app let's you set what range you want to EQ, so if you leave the top end natural (let's say over 1khz), and only EQ below that, it won't mess with your soundstage or imaging.
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post #13 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 09:04 AM
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I always felt the upraised bug and that something was missing in my system - even after calibration with Audyssey XT32. I finally got REW and a Umik-1 mic and discovered a huge null at the crossover point with my sub. Changing my crossover changed the null correspondingly.

Some googling revealed this was a common problem with Audyssey as it does not measure speakers and sub playing together to determine the phase match between them. I manually adjusted the Sub distance to minimize the null (effectively matches the phase) and my system now sounds significantly better.

Get REW and a umik mic, a very worthwhile investment..


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post #14 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 10:07 AM - Thread Starter
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I've avoided installing the ($20) Audyssey app due to the terrible reviews. Lots of issues with it.

On the other hand, I've decided to try out REW (I've ordered the recommended mic).

You have got me curious. I'll also do some more sound comparisons between the DACs (Denon, PS Audio & Logitech Touch) I have.

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post #15 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 10:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tpro8 View Post
Regarding measuring the room - I assume you're referring to Dirac Live. Yeah, I've casually looked into this. I'm not sure if I want to go down that "rabbit hole". Of course I would need an amp that is compatible with Dirac.

My current Denon has Audyssey 32. I found that while this room correction improves the sound for TV & movies, it actually ruins 2 channel music's soundstage. Not sure if Dirac would be any different.


I'm also considering taking advantage of some amp manufacturer's policy of allowing time for a "home tryout". Like Schiit's 15 day tryout. Because so far my "sample size" of amps is not really very good. I'm still curious if a decent stereo amp would still make a hear-able difference.
I wasn't recommending full range room correction type eq, but rather eq below 300 Hz or so where your FR is likely to be poor. This can be done with a miniDSP 2x4 HD if measurements reveal you need improvement in this region.

And again, as others are reinforcing, 5, 10, or 30 watts from your Denon will sound no different than 5, 10, or 30 watts from the most ridiculously overpriced audiophile amp. As long as they are designed to be accurate and not artificially alter the sound, all amps do is supply voltage...they don't alter the sound.

Many people will report hearing a difference between amps, but this is a well known phenomenon involving sighted bias. Unless operating outside of their capability, people cannot hear a difference between amps with level matched, unbiased testing. If people strongly believe their $10,000 amp sounds superior to a $500 AVR, their mind will invent the difference for their ears to hear, which results in them ACTUALLY perceiving a difference where none exists. Objective measurements and double blind testing always reveals this truth.
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post #16 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 10:12 AM
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Recently tried an old Integra DTA 70.1 vs the new Monolith 7....... agreed no difference in my room.
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post #17 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 11:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tpro8 View Post
The sound difference between them all is nil, zilch.
Um, you have to turn them on to hear a difference.

Everyone has different hearing. I hear some amps with a different character, but it is not a huge difference. So congratulations, use whatever you want, don't worry about it, and to hell with anyone else's opinions because THEY DON'T HAVE YOUR EARS/BRAIN.

Ah EDIT: tube amps are quite different, as their high output impedance interacts much more with the speaker impedance, and the response is not flat.
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post #18 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 12:00 PM
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It's not about hearing a tonal difference. It's about having the S/N, damping, slew, etc, to go along with enough power to give you headroom, and ability to deliver what you need in a flash for a specific instant without having to stretch itself to its limits

Most of the time, you don't need much power at all, but when you do, the more headroom and performance you have available, the more your system can breeze through it without breaking a sweat. Without it, there's compression and distortion there.

Now, that might not matter to you much at all and might not be that audible. It's not to me, in fact, but I very much like having the headroom there.

Plus, you can upgrade to other speakers later and not worry about it ever again.

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post #19 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 02:48 PM
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Terrible reviews on the Audyssey app??? Ive only read great things, and then after getting it, it definitely gives a much higher degree of control over not having the app. REQW is only a measuring system, it has no way to EQ or modify the channels.
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post #20 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 03:09 PM
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[QUOTE=tpro8;57999066]OK – I’m a new “audiophile”. What am I missing or doing wrong here:


Hi Tpro8...I have notice similar responses you did about amps, but I have heard some differences in pre-amps.

About 10-12 years ago, just for fun, my wife, a neighbor and I compared some Outlaw amps we owned (7-channel, 200w/ch and 200w monos), with a 125w Rotel amp and a 150w Bel Canto (class D), which we also owned. We tried all four amps in our home theater using two different pre-pros (Outlaw and Rotel) and a pair of Thiel Powerpoint speakers. We did the same thing in our media room, except the speakers were Magnepans 1.6s. The audio level we listened to was around 65-70 dBs avg SPL. It was casual listening, nothing scientific, because we already owned the equipment and were wondering if we could tweak something around for improvement with what we had.

Bottomline, there was an audible difference between the pre-pros, and it did not matter what configuration we used (e.g., speakers and/or pre-pros) or what room we used them in.

However...the amps' comparison was a different story.

We went in expecting to hear something modestly different between the amps, particularly since the Rotel and the Bel Canto were significantly more expensive...but, we did not. This was surprising to us. Ultimately, the consensus was no easily audible difference between the amps when playing the Thiel powerpoint speakers (we guessed wrong as much as we did right). With the Magnepans, there was a slight "airy" sound that could be heard with the Bel Cantos, but only noticeable when doing A/B comparisons...otherwise, no difference. Certainly, nothing even close to the audible difference the pre-pros had.

Since that time, as long as it was a good quality amp (which I defined as a min increase of 50% in power at 4 ohms, all channels driven, when compared to 8 ohms), then I looked at other features for making a decision for which amp to buy (e.g., weight of amp, maintenance reliability concerns, etc.).

FWIW.

EDIT: Whoops! Forgot to mention: Not too long ago, also just for fun, I also compared a Yamaha RX-A3040 I had in one room to a Marantz AV8801 pre-pro I had in our media room. Used Wyred 4 Sound amps to power the Magnepans 3.7i's we had in the media room. Bottomline: we did not notice much difference in sound when listening to movies, maybe a tiny bit of difference on a closely listened to A/B, but not anywhere near the level in difference we heard between the Rotel and Outlaw pre-pros. In fact, at one point in a movie we forgot we had the Yamaha in the system . However, for music there was an audible difference that was easily heard, more along the lines we expected for pre-pros with a large difference in cost.

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post #21 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 03:28 PM
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I did a formal blind listening test for this forum a few years back using 3 different processors


https://www.avsforum.com/forum/90-re...est.html?amp=1
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post #22 of 35 Old 05-05-2019, 04:17 PM
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Quote:
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I did a formal blind listening test for this forum a few years back using 3 different processors


https://www.avsforum.com/forum/90-re...est.html?amp=1
Hi Steve,

Thanks for the post, it was very interesting.

We didn't try to go through the exhausting detail you went through to level match everything. Instead, we just level matched the audio output for each system we used and used the existing cables, etc., in that particular equipment rack/room, then sent all but one person outside of the room. We routinely rotated who went out of the room. When the "testers" came back into the room, they had to "guess" which pre-pro (or amplifier) was in use. It was interesting to find out that you mentioned a deeper sound in the HK (and a 12 of 15 match rate) because a deeper sound or weight of sound was how we were generally able to "guess" when the Rotel was playing vs the Outlaw. My wife and I "guess" the Rotel pre-amp correctly 100% (probably due to being familiar with both sounds, because when our Rotel pre-amp would crap out and be sent in for repair, we would sub the Outlaw until the Rotel got back...so, we had a lot of experience with both pre-pros in that system). Our neighbor initially was more wrong than right on the pre-pros until we broke down and told him about listening to the weight of sound when the Rotel was in. From there he was right more than wrong. However, the amps were a different story, as I mentioned earlier.

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I have had numerous Yamaha and Marantz AVR’s/pre pro’ over the past 6 years(I currently have an 8805 and a 7704). They all have a unique tonal signature that is only really appreciated with very good to great speakers. Your Kefs are nice but not great. True floor standing speakers for 2 channel make the biggest difference. IMHO amps make almost no difference unless they have a high noise floor and you are playing at reference level in a controlled room.(assuming of course they have power to run your speakers). Save your money for a great sub to match your speakers or if you like KEF try some reference 3 or reference 5’s.(these are great speakers) If your hearing is good you can probably enjoy the benefits of a nicer DAC. The last place to spend money is on the amp!
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post #24 of 35 Old 05-06-2019, 05:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tpro8 View Post
It shouldn’t be like this right? I’ve read so many amp reviews where all these superlatives are stated about the differences between amps. Granted I’ve only compared 3 amps – but geese, I would have thought there would have been a considerable difference between them.
The problem is your doing it half-a$$ed and expecting audiophile results. Having the DAC alone isn't going to get you anywhere buddy. You need platinum speaker cable, rhodium interconnects, cable isolation management, jadeite stones between the MLP and your speakers to ensure the proper metaphysical dampening happens to the sound waves. Failure to do so will undoubtedly cause a loss in the holographic imaging and depth your speaker cables were providing Last, but not least, don't forget the $1200 power cord to restore the electrons that were lost and ensure proper electron spacing that was corrupted between the local power station and your amp. Typically these are all sold as a a package to ensure you get the net effect. Obviously, you tried to do this yourself without the proper guidance. Now you come to a public forum to whine and complain. Either get with the program properly or get a sound bar. Geezzz...I tire of audiophile n00bs!
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post #25 of 35 Old 05-06-2019, 05:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Molon_Labe View Post
The problem is your doing it half-a$$ed and expecting audiophile results. Having the DAC alone isn't going to get you anywhere buddy. You need platinum speaker cable, rhodium interconnects, cable isolation management, jadeite stones between the MLP and your speakers to ensure the proper metaphysical dampening happens to the sound waves. Failure to do so will undoubtedly cause a loss in the holographic imaging and depth your speaker cables were providing Last, but not least, don't forget the $1200 power cord to restore the electrons that were lost and proper electron spacing that was corrupted between the local power station and your amp. Typically these are all sold as a a package to ensure you get the net effect. Obviously, you tried to do this yourself without the proper guidance. Geezzz...I tire of audiophile n00bs!
Geez, what a bunch of BS, you can't get a quality power cord for only $1200!

















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post #26 of 35 Old 05-06-2019, 05:46 AM
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Geez, what a bunch of BS, you can't get a quality power cord for only $1200!
Stop being such a jerk man. Obviously, I was typing fast and forgot a zero or two. I apologize
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post #27 of 35 Old 05-06-2019, 05:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Molon_Labe View Post
The problem is your doing it half-a$$ed and expecting audiophile results. Having the DAC alone isn't going to get you anywhere buddy. You need platinum speaker cable, rhodium interconnects, cable isolation management, jadeite stones between the MLP and your speakers to ensure the proper metaphysical dampening happens to the sound waves. Failure to do so will undoubtedly cause a loss in the holographic imaging and depth your speaker cables were providing Last, but not least, don't forget the $1200 power cord to restore the electrons that were lost and ensure proper electron spacing that was corrupted between the local power station and your amp. Typically these are all sold as a a package to ensure you get the net effect. Obviously, you tried to do this yourself without the proper guidance. Now you come to a public forum to whine and complain. Either get with the program properly or get a sound bar. Geezzz...I tire of audiophile n00bs!
Be honest -- you just cut and pasted this from Audiogon...

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post #28 of 35 Old 05-06-2019, 06:27 AM
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Um, no..... I don't read Audiogon. But if they have similar content, I will certainly go take a look. I have however followed many audiophile threads and products for decades and find them somewhat amusing.
Oh, you should definitely check it out. There is no shortage of interesting discussions. Like a recent post about how a $325 per meter ethernet cable drastically improved the sound of digital streaming audio.
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post #29 of 35 Old 05-06-2019, 06:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Molon_Labe View Post
The problem is your doing it half-a$$ed and expecting audiophile results. Having the DAC alone isn't going to get you anywhere buddy. You need platinum speaker cable, rhodium interconnects, cable isolation management, jadeite stones between the MLP and your speakers to ensure the proper metaphysical dampening happens to the sound waves. Failure to do so will undoubtedly cause a loss in the holographic imaging and depth your speaker cables were providing Last, but not least, don't forget the $1200 power cord to restore the electrons that were lost and ensure proper electron spacing that was corrupted between the local power station and your amp. Typically these are all sold as a a package to ensure you get the net effect. Obviously, you tried to do this yourself without the proper guidance. Now you come to a public forum to whine and complain. Either get with the program properly or get a sound bar. Geezzz...I tire of audiophile n00bs!
I assume this is all tongue-in-cheek!
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post #30 of 35 Old 05-06-2019, 07:49 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Molon_Labe View Post
The problem is your doing it half-a$$ed and expecting audiophile results. Having the DAC alone isn't going to get you anywhere buddy. You need platinum speaker cable, rhodium interconnects, cable isolation management, jadeite stones between the MLP and your speakers to ensure the proper metaphysical dampening happens to the sound waves. Failure to do so will undoubtedly cause a loss in the holographic imaging and depth your speaker cables were providing Last, but not least, don't forget the $1200 power cord to restore the electrons that were lost and ensure proper electron spacing that was corrupted between the local power station and your amp. Typically these are all sold as a a package to ensure you get the net effect. Obviously, you tried to do this yourself without the proper guidance. Now you come to a public forum to whine and complain. Either get with the program properly or get a sound bar. Geezzz...I tire of audiophile n00bs!
LOL (for real).
It didn't take me long in this "hobby" to learn that talking about cables is akin to touching the 3rd rail.

Thanks to Steve and AudioFan810 for their experiences.

Granted I always knew that speakers were very important part of an audio system. But this has really driven this point home.

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