A Discussion About What Level Of Analog To Stop At

So this is a bit of a friendly discussion, a sharing of information, and perhaps a bit of a what if thread.

As we acknowledge, the rooms our stereo’s reside in are a significant factor in how our audio systems sound. Now this discussion takes place mostly in the arena of speakers, and perhaps amplification for those speakers. I don’t believe I have read threads where it comes up in context to our source components. But I am wondering if it should?

In terms of myself, I only run one system unless you count my headphone rig. Truth is I rarely listen to that and I wonder if it is worth the money I spent there. But I am a consolidator and climber when it comes to audio gear. I also have an understanding with my patient spouse that I keep the audio gear in one room. I suspect if I tried taking over another room with audio gear, she would bury me in a shallow grave in the back yard.

So I have run of the living room within reason. Now this is the best room for audio in the house, but it is by no means perfect. it is 16’W by 20’ L with 8’ ceilings that are textured with acoustic popcorn. The flooring is short pile carpet with heavy pad. There is a dining room off the left wall, so only a half wall on that side. The right wall has a picture window in it. 6’L and 5’T. The back wall has french doors with glass panes. There is a little notch in the back left corner about 3’L by 1.5’D, its where they put a small bathroom on the other side of the wall. Equipment rack is on the side wall under the window. The speakers on the short wall on each side of a fireplace. Listen chair is 4 feet off the french doors.

Stereo consists of:

Martin Logan CLX ART speakers w dual Velodyne HGS12 subwoofers

Classe Omega monoblock amplifiers

Trinov Amethyst pre-amp (the DSP functions are a prime consideration in buying)

Cen Grand DSDac 1.0 Deluxe DAC

BPT 2.5 Signature power conditioner

Now all the analog gear is where it gets messy, and my consolidation thoughts are kicking in

Turntable #1 SOTA Cosmos Eclipse/SME V/Transfiguration Audio Porteus

Turntable #2 Scheu Analog Das Laufwerk No2 with Schroder CB-1L and Ortofon Verismo. Second arm Dynavector DV505 that gets used with an Ortofon MC2000/Ortofon MC3000 II/Kiseki Blackheart

Phono stages are a BMC MCCI Signature ULN, a standard BMC MCI Signature, and Esoteric E-03. Have an Ortofon T2000 SUT to use with the MC2000.


As a consolidator I sometimes wonder if all of this is necessary. The money is spent and this is kind of my audio kitty funds. I tend to keep those monies separate and often save and then sell pieces being upgraded to afford that next step. The reality is that often I cannot have to expensive pieces side by side and decide which I like the best. Since I also shop Audiogon and USAM for used gear it’s not possible to listen to candidates. As a consolidation I look at what is out there. For instance, when I tally things up I could possibly afford a Walker Proscenium that happens to be on Ebay at the moment. I would be down to one table, one phono stage, and two cartridges. One thing that stops me is that gold on the Walker is damned ugly, secondly, I am not sure I got room for the pump assembly. My system is a bit large for this room as it sits.

As I am writing I wonder if this room can really support a higher tier of analog gear than I got. I think some would argue that this room is limited in ways to compromise even what I have. The sound is very nice, better than I hear at many shows, and in other audiophiles’ homes I have gone to. We have a local audio group, and I haven’t heard anything I like better. In the past I have used the MC3000 II cartridge as a casual listening tool, but with the CEN GRAND DAC the sound is so nice I really don’t need to do that anymore. Still need the Dynavector arm though if I want to play the MC2000. Now all of these cartridges sound very very nice, and I could live with any of them. Truth is I like the Transfiguration the least. Or I think so till I spend about a weekend listening to it.

One thought is to choose one table and sell it all off and maximize that one. The other is to keep the Verismo and probably the Kiseki. Buy the very best table and arm I can with all the funds gathered once I sell all that stuff. The question I cannot answer for myself is ...is this worth it given what my room allows this system to do? I have a small amount of room treatment with wood diffusers, ART series acoustic panels, and the DSP function of the preamp. But I cannot turn this into a full-on treated room because of the basic limitations of it.

I have probably made posts in the past in other threads putting ideas like this forward. But I don’t know if I ever made a comprehensive post with all these thoughts. laid out. If you feel its repetitive, I do understand. However, if you have thoughts or ideas, I would surely be interested in reading them. Take the conversation wherever makes sense, as this is meant to be a wide-ranging discussion. Thanks for any of your contributions!



@tvrgeek ,

That is a statement only an inexperienced person can make. I do not mean that as a negative. People who experience a system with a processor like the Trinnov Amethyst in place are, to a person, blown away by the improvement in sound quality. Just subwoofer matching is enough to justify the unit. You can put these units in bypass and compare processed with unprocessed sound and no person could possibly prefer the unprocessed sound. Analog signals are fragile. Anything you do to them creates distortion. The same is not true of digital signals. You can not distort the meaning of a number. You can do anything you want to them without adding distortion. This opens up a world of capability not available to analog systems. If you are old enough to remember analog cell phones then you have experienced the comparison. Purely because of digital transmission modern cell phones are as good as they are today. The DAC only reads numbers. It totally ignores static and other distortions.  

The Benchmark is deadly accurate and the Hegel is not. This is purely a matter of preference. With a processor like the Trinnov you can make the Benchmark sound like the Hegel and take advantage of its superior signal to noise ratio. Hegel is made in China and I personally think at this point we need to avoid subsidizing that country. A processor like the Trinnov allows you to program your system to sound the way you want without adding additional artifacts while providing superior imaging and bass management. 

Humans are extremely change adverse and Audiophiles are definitely worse in this regard than other humans. Digital processors have been around for over 25 years and they still are not utilized at a level their value would suggest. Most of the high end audio companies lack the engineers capable of designing equipment of this nature. The farthest they go are DACs, a very basic item in the digital playbook. Some companies do streamers but not analog equipment. Of the hundreds of audio companies out there only a handful are capable of engineering processors like the Trinnov or DEQX. Anthem is the exception. They are the only company I can think of that does it all. 

The sound quality at many concerts is hideous. Much of the horror is do to the acoustics of the venue and not the equipment. The best sound quality is in smaller situations where the instruments are not sent through a PA. 

I think we are touching on an old conundrum: whether to take the Dionysian or Apollonian approach to pleasure? Which is to say, shall we visit as many flowers as possible and drink the nectar from many, or simply sit on the best of them all and enjoy that?

I was lucky in being guided to the cartridge I adore above all the others I have heard. I went off the rails when I thought it could no longer be rebuilt when John Wright retired. And now I find myself with six tonearms and cartridges, and most of the time I use the secondary cartridges as ways of delaying the stylus being worn out again on my favourite. This is unhealthy, and I am, in effect, denying myself the full pleasure of the sound I love, leading to the curious paradox of taking the Dionysian approach in order to delay gratification! I might be better off if I simply kept my best cartridge on my best tonearm and used it, maybe accepting that a dedicated mono cartridge on my second best tonearm could live alongside it. Then I could substitute a lesser cartridge when ever I have worn out the stylus, but replace the king whenever it comes back from its trip to the spa. I think this would be both rational, and maximise my listening pleasure.

No doubt, as a deleted post above suggested, some of us are in need of help!


Well, I have been listening to a lot of DACs and several amps. I find very large differences. Yes, the Benchmark amp is dead flat, super low distortion, but to me it sounds lifeless.  Just for fun, I grabbed a Fosi V3 ( also super low numbers) and at very low levels, not bad. Bring it up to moderate levels and it was terrible, well within 10W range on my desk. ( My 2W Rekkr does very nicely). So relegated to my garage system.   I find every class D amp either lifeless or something wrong I can't put my finger on, though they are getting much better. If return shipping was not so high, I would like to try a March. My JDS DAC sounds better  than my Topping or Schiit with traditional numbers a good 50% "better." as well as several much higher priced SMSL/Topping/Cambridge I have sent back and the internal DACs of some almost prestige level integrated amps.  I do want to play with a Qutest for a while. My specific area of concern is female vocal edginess. Not bass weight or some ethereal "air" I don't believe is in the recordings to start with. Maybe a Denafritz. Much worse traditional numbers. 

Simple SNR/IM/THD numbers are valid, but only part of the answer.  The missing component is how our brain processes the information. Also not determined by simple pure tone testing. Good data, but not the full story.  With a speaker producing 0.2% third harmonic, explain why our brain likes or dislikes differences in electronics of .000x.   It seems to, but we don't have an explanation. I propose masking is part of it.  If numbers were all of it, no one would fool with vinyl. We do because it sounds better in the preferences of some people. Clear differences even in a tone arm and we have no idea what measurement describes that. Personally, I found surface noise and ticks and pops to be more objectionable than even second generation digital so I switched. 

If you read my post more carefully, I am speculating on what DISTORTIONS possibly make our music more pleasurable and which make it less so.  Tubes are a prime example. Distortion from moving coils another. High noise floor and limited dynamic range from Vinyl? (OK, most CD's are super compressed too thank you loudness wars)  Something in most DSP I find objectionable. Testing through JRiver identified clipping due to filter overshoot to be one issue ( easily solved). Does pre-ringing mess up our perception of transients?  Don't know, but an easily measured kind of distortion. Lots of issues to explore. 

Again, if you have a better understanding of DACs and how digital filters work, you may not have the same " reads numbers" viewpoint. Reading numbers is only step one.  Even the cheapest dongles do some DSP. The A2D has just as many issues as do all the processing done in the mastering.  To avoid any DSP, well maybe an old Sheffield D-to-D lp.   The King James Version being one of my favorites. 

Where something is assembled is of course your choice. I prefer to select the product for it's merits.  I am tempted to get a Vidar and see how it compares to my own MOSFET.  So far few have equaled it.  It benches pretty well too, better than I can measure through a Focusrite. ( distortion added by A2D). I am not wealthy enough to buy "prestige" amps.  I am not convinced ( yes, I have borrowed some) are any better in any system I can afford. Drop me off a Levenson of Bryston if you wish :) 

We can agree, many PAs are terrible. Many venues are worse, but I find the musical experience to usually be better.  "Why?" is the question.  We did walk out of a MoodyBlues concert once as it was totally unlistenable. Why does a Strat into an over-biased Fender sound great live but a recording of it does not? Why can't we seem to record a single classical guitar or piano convincingly?   We don't know. 

Yea, the Anthem DSP is decent for HT.  Beats Audessy any day, though my old MXR310 is not exactly SOA amp wise. Have not had a MiniDSP with DIRAC to play with. ( digital in, digital out as their DACs are about an Apple dongle level). I do my eq on my main system by careful crossover design and let my brain sort it out without any processing artifacts. Our brain actually does a very good job of eq if it is not too far off.  ( component burn in I propose is 90% our brain getting used to it, 10% actual technical)

@tvrgeek It is all a balancing act, and its a cost versus reward analysis. I tune the room the best I can with acoustic panels and speaker and equipment stand location. Actually the room measures almost ruler flat from 200 Hz on up. Then I allows the DSP to make small corrections, essentially fine tuning the set up. The thing with a quality DSP is if you make modest changes it does not intrude on the music, its when you make giant steps that processing becomes noticeable. Since this is not a custom built audio room and is off my dining room, it has a dual purpose of entertaining guests from time to time. Not frequently though. Its primary function is my music room. So this is the best arrangement I have had, and the Trinov is one of the more formidable DSP systems on the market. It does work well. But it does get the analog purist in a bit of a tither since an analog signal is going AD to DA at some point. 

Dear @neonknight  : Sorry to insist again how is your ML/Velodyne set up.


Thank's in advance,