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  1. #1

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    Default Searching for a "Cheap" Upgrade

    My system sounds great now, but, like most of us, I'm always in search of a better sound. I have a HK 525 receiver and a Cambridge Audio 540D DVD that I'm also using to play CDs. Signal Cable interconnects.

    I'm not ready to make the plunge to separates yet, but I was wondering if I could benefit from purchasing an external DAC or CD transport to improve the SQ. Don't know much about them.

    Any suggestions? I want to stay under $300 new or used gear.

    Thanks.

  2. #2

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    Early - The external DAC gear has been getting alot of praise lately, so this might be your ticket on the affordable end. I think you have a real solid unit for transport duty, so don't be in a hurry there IMO.

    The DAC guru's will hop in and get you square :)

  3. #3

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    I think an external DAC is definitely one of the best and cheapest upgrades around. You can get pretty decent ones on ebay for a little over a hundred bucks if you go with something like an AA DAC-MAN or similar.

  4. #4

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    An external 2 chanel amp would also be a good upgrade in your budget.
    -izafar

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  5. #5

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    External DAC's can have a big impact on a system. There's quite a few at audiogon right now under your price range.

    Izafar gave a good suggestion too. What speakers are you running right now? It might be better to get an external amp before the DAC.

    Maurice
    CD Player: Original CD-A8T
    Pre: Antique Sound Lab Passive T1-X DT
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    "I would rather have a cup of tone than an ocean of power" **Dr. Harvey Rosenberg**

  6. #6

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    My front speakers are RTi70's.

  7. #7

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    If you haven't already, I'd also consider some sort of vibration isolation. This can be an easy tweak that can be used on future gear too.
    Make it Funky! :)

  8. #8

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    I'd also consider some sort of vibration isolation.
    Good idea....I use old, rubber mousepads. :D Very cheap upgrade!

  9. #9

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    EB, you've got fine equipment, including your player and its DAC. As this review shows it uses the fine Crystal CS4360 DAC by Cirrus Logic. You might take a look here at the data sheet on it. Note that among other specs, it has a 102dB dynamic range. The theoretical max for CDs is about 97dBs, which isn't really reached in the recordings. Although DACs with even higher numbers are available, it isn't of audible significance. While years ago it was sometimes worthwhile to use an external DAC, DACs of excellent quality which exceed audible limits are now available at low cost to equipment manufacturers. Don't waste your time and money.

    While you're obviously thinking about hardware, for the amount you're thinking of spending what will make a real difference is more of the great music that's out there for you(say about 20 CDs worth). Enjoy the music and don't worry about DACs.

  10. #10

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    OK, so if I invested in an amp to power my fronts, are more watts generally better (100 vs. 200) if not listening at loud volumes?

    The reason I ask is because I'm considering the purchase of a HK PA 2000 amp. It has 100 watts and is available at J&R for $249 with free shipping. I was wondering if this amp would give me a noticeable difference in sound. I have a HK 525 receiver with 70 watts per channel.

    Thanks.

  11. #11

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    yes, those are bi-ampable...

    I am using that same amp to bi-amp my 150s, and it made a HUGE difference...

    However, you may not see as much of an improvement with the 70's becuase they're not near as power hungry...

    This may also help lighten the load on the HK so it's able to give more juice to the other speakers...not that HK has any issues with power mind you, but every piece of equipment has it's limits...

    I'd say go for it...I think you'll love the difference...plus you can always use another amp...
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  12. #12

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    Originally posted by John K.
    Enjoy the music and don't worry about DACs.
    I wish that the DAC people agreed with you, but they don't.

  13. #13

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    I find the my use of "Pure Audio" on Okyno AVR using the digital input provides me with the best sound. Using the analog input the AD convertor in the CD changer provides flatter / not as live sound.

    Does anyone think I could find a better DAC then the one in my Onkyo AVR?




    Originally posted by dorokusai
    I wish that the DAC people agreed with you, but they don't.

    Speakers
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    RT800i's Rears
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  14. #14
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    EB,
    I gotta go with the amp alternative at this point. The price on the 2000 is so low right now.

    As for the external DAC... not all on-board DAC's are created equal. Maybe you can benefit from buying an external, and maybe not. But the beauty is that if you shop the used market wisely, you can always resell it for what you put into it. Most you'll likely be out is shipping, and most are very light and small.
    More later,
    Tour...
    Vox Copuli
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    "There is a certain entertainment value in ripping the occaisonal (sic) buttmunch..." - TroyD
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    Rebuilding Maggie 2-ch & Amazing 2-ch... Building 2-ch "wall"... Figuring out the HT

  15. #15

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    Thanks for everyone's input. I went ahead and ordered the HK PA 2000 amp. Just want to see if it makes a difference. If not, I can either sell it for close to what I paid or keep it and start work on a 2-channel rig.

    When I went from a Denon AVR 1803 (80 wpc) to an HK 525 (70 wpc), the soundstage simply blossomed with power and authority. Hopefully, I can achieve another increment of better sound with the new amp. If not, no harm done.

    I'll let everyone know how it works.

  16. #16

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    LOL,

    Just did the same ordered a PA2000.

    Speakers
    Carver Amazing Fronts
    CS400i Center
    RT800i's Rears
    Sub Paradigm Servo 15

    Electronics
    Conrad Johnson PV-5 pre-amp
    Parasound Halo A23
    Pioneer 84TXSi AVR
    Pioneer 79Avi DVD
    Sony CX400 CD changer
    Panasonic 42-PX60U Plasma
    WMC Win7 32bit HD DVR



  17. #17

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    disneyjoe7 --

    That's great. Since you're in Florida, our amps should arrive on the same day.

    What will be your application for the amp? I'm gonna power my fronts which are Rti70s.

  18. #18
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    EB,
    When you say "power", you mean bi-amp? Believe that's what Pm is doing with the 2000 on the tweeters.
    More later,
    Tour...
    Vox Copuli
    Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. - Old English Proverb

    "It's easy to get lost in price vs performance vs ego vs illusion." - doro
    "There is a certain entertainment value in ripping the occaisonal (sic) buttmunch..." - TroyD
    "Death doesn't come with a Uhaul." - Dennis Gardner

    Rebuilding Maggie 2-ch & Amazing 2-ch... Building 2-ch "wall"... Figuring out the HT

  19. #19

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    Originally posted by Tour2ma
    EB,
    When you say "power", you mean bi-amp? Believe that's what Pm is doing with the 2000 on the tweeters.
    Actually I'm powering my lows with the PA2000, using the ES to power the highs...

    I switched over the 2000 for the highs last weekend, but the HK sound didn't mix too well with the Sony sound, so I put the 2000 back on duty with the lows where it doesn't make a difference...it's needed more there anyway...
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
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  20. #20

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    Early B.

    Also in Florida?

    I will be using the PA2000 to power the woofers on my RTi150's. My Onkyo 898 AVR will do the mid / tweeter for Bi-Amping. I think that will do wonders for my 2 channel listening ;)







    Originally posted by Early B.
    disneyjoe7 --

    That's great. Since you're in Florida, our amps should arrive on the same day.

    What will be your application for the amp? I'm gonna power my fronts which are Rti70s.

    Speakers
    Carver Amazing Fronts
    CS400i Center
    RT800i's Rears
    Sub Paradigm Servo 15

    Electronics
    Conrad Johnson PV-5 pre-amp
    Parasound Halo A23
    Pioneer 84TXSi AVR
    Pioneer 79Avi DVD
    Sony CX400 CD changer
    Panasonic 42-PX60U Plasma
    WMC Win7 32bit HD DVR



  21. #21

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    Originally posted by disneyjoe7
    I will be using the PA2000 to power the woofers on my RTi150's. My Onkyo 898 AVR will do the mid / tweeter for Bi-Amping. I think that will do wonders for my 2 channel listening ;)
    I'm curious to hear your findings also. It works wonders for my 150s, hope it works as well for you...
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  22. #22

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    Hadn't considered using the HK PA 2000 for bi-amping. I suppose I could try that, too. I was actually going to use the amp for the fronts instead of the receiver and let the receiver handle the other five channels. I'm not expecting much difference for movies, but hoping for a better SQ in 2-channel music mode.

  23. #23

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    Early,

    I think bi-amping the fronts can take the heavy load off the AVR providing better overall sound. Also Bi-amping the lows of the front can provide better bass, while retaining the correct voice matching on all the speakers. A sweet little upgrade IHMO.



    Originally posted by Early B.
    Hadn't considered using the HK PA 2000 for bi-amping. I suppose I could try that, too. I was actually going to use the amp for the fronts instead of the receiver and let the receiver handle the other five channels. I'm not expecting much difference for movies, but hoping for a better SQ in 2-channel music mode.

    Speakers
    Carver Amazing Fronts
    CS400i Center
    RT800i's Rears
    Sub Paradigm Servo 15

    Electronics
    Conrad Johnson PV-5 pre-amp
    Parasound Halo A23
    Pioneer 84TXSi AVR
    Pioneer 79Avi DVD
    Sony CX400 CD changer
    Panasonic 42-PX60U Plasma
    WMC Win7 32bit HD DVR



  24. #24
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    Originally posted by Polkmaniac
    Actually I'm powering my lows with the PA2000, using the ES to power the highs...
    Thought I remembered you went the other way because the 525 had more power in 2 ch mode. Someone did... I think... ;)
    More later,
    Tour...
    Vox Copuli
    Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. - Old English Proverb

    "It's easy to get lost in price vs performance vs ego vs illusion." - doro
    "There is a certain entertainment value in ripping the occaisonal (sic) buttmunch..." - TroyD
    "Death doesn't come with a Uhaul." - Dennis Gardner

    Rebuilding Maggie 2-ch & Amazing 2-ch... Building 2-ch "wall"... Figuring out the HT

  25. #25

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    Early:

    Keep in mind you're going to have to spend alot of money to out-do the DAC built into the Cambridge--Just an FYI.

    Source: Squeezebox Touch/CIA Power Supply
    DAC: Benchmark DAC/PRE
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    Speakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 Monitor
    Subwoofer: SVS PB12-NSD

  26. #26

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    Thanks. Based on the feedback here, I decided to hold off on the DAC and look at other possible upgrades.

    One day I'd love to build a dedicated 2-channel system with separates, a pair of Lsi9's and a Hsu STF-2 sub. The only thing preventing me from doing that right now is this crazy concept called "money".

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