if you had this system, what would you do to make it sound the best you can

This is my first time using this forum. I'm looking to improve my system, and I'd like to hear your ideas of what you would change or purchase to make it sound even better. Current system:  McIntosh amp MC202, 200 watts/ch; C42 preamp with DAC and 8 band equalizer; MCD 301CD; MR85 Tuner; streamer MB20.  TT is Pro-ject Classic SB, Equalizer Sound Shaper 3 IC, Speakers Spendor A5s rated 150watts peak, cables Audioquest; R to R, J Corder Technics RS1520; Panamax Power.  All pieces have original power cords.  Audio cables are low-end.  Music: Classical, Jazz, Easy/soft Rock.  Joan Baez, Enya, etc. thank you for any advice.



Speakers make the biggest bang-for-the-buck! I will recommend a pair of the latest Quad ESL's. Your electronics gear is fine. The stock power cords are fine. The interconnects are fine. Others here will disagree with my views about cables/speaker wire. My experience goes back to 1976 when I bought my first really good HiFi system.

You didn't list your present phono cartridge. This being a mechanical transducer like a speaker will have a different sound compared to other companies' cartridges. And like speakers subjective impressions are important. You might want to buy and try a different phono cartridge.

After a certain point it's not about the equipment, but how you setup the equipment in your room.  You have very good equipment that would easily reveal the benefits of good setup.

First experiment with finding the optimal speaker/listening positions.  Here you're really looking for the smoothest bass response and most precise imaging/soundstage info.  Inches matter.

Second, are all your components positioned on solid, non resonant surfaces?  This is particularly important for your turntable.

Third, meticulously align your cartridge/tonearm.

At this point your basics are covered.  If you want to go further you could explore room acoustic treatments, cabling and power conditioning.  Careful setup is time consuming, but it's cheap.  The rest of the stuff can get very expensive.

jason wrote exactly (well almost) what I was going to suggest:

752 posts


You didn't list your present phono cartridge. This being a mechanical transducer like a speaker will have a different sound compared to other companies' cartridges. And like speakers subjective impressions are important. You might want to buy and try a different phono cartridge."

Decouple your speakers from the floor. Starting with least expensive, like sorbothane.

I would agree that your speakers may indeed be your weakest link. You could set a trip to a city (if you don’t live near one with some audio stores) and listen to other speakers with the music you like in hand. The rest of your equipment like good to me. Of course you may want to explore if you want to spend more on analog or digital, because each source can eat up your budget the higher you go. That’s if you want to improve your media route.

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Do the free stuff first.  Set up the system properly.in your room.  Location of speakers are equipment makes a big difference. 

Speaker are no more important than anything else in the system.  They should be the last thing replaced.  The most important link is your source.  Whatever gets the music off the media is priority.  Speakers will never add back what was lost at the source. 

Priorities should go:\

1)  Cartridge

2)  Arm

3)  Turntable

4)  Phono stage

5)  Preamp

6)  Amp

7)  Speakers

always buy the best cables you can afford or justify.  Don't waste money on highend speakers when the rest of your gear is not up to that standard.  Garbage in garbage out.

Welcome and best with all the advice.  You might want to establish a budget.  How much do you want to spend on this first iteration of upgrades?  Maybe make the rounds and listen some decent systems.  Lastly, you will go much further dumping the analog and upgrading on the digital side.  Don’t discount room acoustics, speaker and listener placement.

Many things need to go .being a ex Audio dealer any products you have are sub standard ,the Panamax good for a printer or Pc , try a Puritan line conditioner

that is not current limiting , a EQ degrades the sound inside pure crap,parts quality

buy a Quality dac Depending on budget.

comparisons on many areas and levels .


I must agree. Upgrading your speakers would be the way to go. You can get lots more out of the rest of your system. If you can swing over $5K you can get into a new class of speakers. If you really like the Mac sound, B&W is a common choice to pair with. Other great brands: Sonus Faber (natural / musical) and DynAudio (detailed and dynamic) are also great choices. Since the Mac stuff tends to lack detail, B&W and DynAudio may be really compatible.


+1 Getting Better Sound

Don’t let others tell you that your system is not good. Unless anything there needs a recap or new wiring, then leave it alone. I mean, speakers maybe? But only if they’re in need of some service. But those a5’s are supposed to be great speakers (I’m a Spendor fan so I’m definitely biased!). Positioning and room treatment (if you haven’t already used some) is just as important as your components. Make sure you get a handle on the peak frequencies in your room and first reflections if you haven’t already done so.

Other than that, yeah…a nicer power strip/conditioner would be advisable. At least a high current Chang Lightspeed, or a Puritan if you can swing it. You also do not have to pay a great deal for some well made/shielded high current power cables as well. You’d be amazed at the difference that alone can make for the system.

If you’re itching to change at least one component, others here mentioned purchasing a nice outboard dac and I’d have to agree that would be a fun and noticeable improvement. Holo Audio Cyan 2 is affordable but hits way above its class. 

Riccitone advised you well...

upgrading is not recommended as a first move if your system is already synergetical...

To go for more learn about your electrical grid, the control of vibration on your system and room acoustic...

Upgrading will give you no knowledge at all save if some gear piece is too much sub par to the other piece ...

You must learn with what you have and then after exploring the way to use optimally what you had already then you will know what piece3 to upgrade and why ...

The most fun part of this hobby is the journey in experimenting with what you have already ...

upgrading will never be so gratifying than creativity...

Upgrade is useful when we know why with what and how to install it rightfully in a room with the other pieces...

Takes your time read a bit and think with simple experiments to begin ...

I bought new Quad ESL's 15 years ago - and I'm keeping them. The 29 series is very smooth and elegant, and build quality is high. The 28 series is brighter, too bright for my taste. YMMV

What are your ears missing?  What do you want to hear more of.  What kind of music do you listen to?

Remarkably, no one's touched on the elephant in the room:  You've got all this McIntosh gear and are using a low-fi piece of junk ADC equalizer.  First thing I would do is ditch it.  You will find that the system suddenly sounds more open, with better dynamics, lower noise, and less graininess.

I’d agree with @jhnnrrs about the equalizer you have in the chain.  I’m not sure why you would need it given you have an 8 band in the preamp.  Pull that thing out and get yourself a nice external DAC.  Not sure how much of your listening is digital vice vinyl but an external DAC would likely make a huge difference depending on budget.  You could likely do better for speakers given the level of your other components but I’ve never heard the Spendors.

- Get a Rythmik F12G subwoofer or a pair and cure the Spendor’s flaccidity.

- Get rid of the Panamax and get a Audioquest Powerquest 505, 707 (if on a budget) or something from the Niagara series and plug all your stuff into it. You should be able to perceive more resolution, detail, etc with the latter.

- The room is atleast 50%. Figure out how to treat your room, if you haven’t done so already. If you don’t know much about it, talk to a guy like Matthew Poes (Poes Acoustics). The 150 bucks or so that a knowledgeable acoustics guy may charge for a phone consultation should help you not make mistakes/waste cash and get you far.


Without a picture of your room and equipment layout, we are missing some key info to help you. It is highly probable that the biggest sound improvements you could make are with the room and equipment placement.

I’d start by watching videos on speaker placement  and room treatment. That’s free, and often can make a huge difference.

Second, instead of casting about wildly, test your system and see what is going on.

There is free room acoustic software called  “REW”.  For whatever reason I can’t post a link due to how they set this website up.  But you can run it with a computer, DAC, and a cheap (like $20) omnidirectional microphone.  It will test your system and room acoustics and tell you what is going on.  Very easy to use.  Starting with this software, I literally made a Cold War era bomb shelter into a ln amazing listening space.

Third, Google lists of songs reviewers use to test equipment and what they are used for.  Resolution, bass, separation, etc.  it’s things like “can you hear John’s squeaky chair at the end of a particular Sgt Pepper song?  can you close your eyes and tell the five singers in Y are placed.  Does a Queen song song right?  Does Lourde’s bass in “royals” pound your chest? This is actually fun. And was a fair amount of music I never listen to.

Do all that, and you’ll find your weak link.  If I am guessing, I bet it will be your speakers, which are actually great speakers for their price, but not as nice as your amp, for example.  That said, it may be as simple as buying a subwoofer and adding to those speakers and setting it up with a high pass filter so your main speakers don't have to work so hard.  Perhaps a split before the amp, even.  Just depends on what you buy.

Second guess is the amp, third would be your cartridge.  And that could be how it is installed, which you can also check for free.

What the problem IS NOT are interconnections. That’s an issue for extremely high fidelity systems.  So unless you are using lamp wire,‘don’t concern yourself with that now. Utter waste of money with this system.

it is not your main wires, either.  Farther down the list than interconnects.  It could be (if you hear buzzing or pops or whatever) bad electricity coming in.  A reasonable Furman power conditioner might help and is good insurance from power surges.  This depends on your house and your local power.  But is majoring in minors, typically.

If it were my system, add a stereo pair of subs. Something small and fast like REL T7/x or T9/x depending on size of room. Spend the time learning about positioning and dialing them in properly.

Yes on all of the above. McIntosh is very warm sounding. Silver interconnects from your source to your McIntosh. I agree, ditch the equalizer... more wires to contend with. 

Upgrading the fuse. Makes a difference! Yes on a power conditioner. A used Niagara will lower the sound floor. Sort of the difference between driving in your car with the stereo on versus, sitting in your driveway with the music on. 

If you keep the speakers, a sub will make a huge difference. 

It's unfortunate, but Everything makes a difference. Only your ears can make you a believer. 

My system, Lumin T2 streamer,-- AQ Wel xlr --McIntosh MA 12000 with purple fuse--AQ Firebird speaker wires--GR Research NX-Oticas speakers with two Double trouble subs. 

I also just added a McIntosh MEN220, room correction unit. That unit made a big difference and balanced not only the room, but also the phase and the frequencies between my speakers and the subs. Impressive difference.  

Panamax power conditioner should go. I have one and don’t use it in my System, it tends to be restrictive.

What is size of room which really impacts Quality of what you're hearing.  I would for more powerful amplifiers, mcIntosh is fine

I suggest taking some of your upgrade budget and attend an audio show. AXPONA is coming up but there are shows all over the country now. There is no better way to get an idea of how your system stacks up against what is currently available.

I could easily post the same question you have but I don't need to. I'm running a late '90's vintage system with Krell amp and preamp and Thiel CS6 speakers. When they were new they were solid Class A. I've been to three audio shows (AXPONA, Florida, PNW) and I found out that my system holds its own against most of the six-figure systems I heard. In many cases my setup sounds clearly superior to systems where the cabling and power conditioning cost more than my entire rig.

You will hear lots of speakers and some of them will tickle your fancy (I think the rest of your system is fine). You will see that high end speakers sound REALLY different from each other and what you like may be the opposite of what someone else likes. At the 2018 AXPONA they had a pair of large Wilson speakers in a well appointed room and I thought they sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. Other people I talked to thought they were the best sound at the show. Once you go through this process you can narrow down the choices and make an informed decision. And besides, it's just plain fun.

8th note agree 100%. Also I would like to add cabling make a difference but you have to experiment yourself.

I would certainly agree with upgrading from the Spendor A5s (48 Hz to 20 kHz) to a pair of floorstanders that offer great SQ of a more extensive frequency range, reaching down to at least 30 Hz (-3dB). There are many affordable options available that won’t break the bank. If a floorstander only reaches the low registers around 50 Hz, one might question its purpose. The Halfman iron rule suggests that a larger cabinet could allow for a fuller and more enjoyable sound across the frequency spectrum. So, why not opt for a floorstander that offers a more comprehensive range? Your electronics are fully capable of supporting it.

You have a nice system with very high quality parts. Congratulations!

Some good advice so far, and no one but you can know what is going to make a difference, but as a start:

Try eliminating the power conditioner entirely. You may not need it, and they often degrade the sound. Give it a try and listen.

Try eliminating the equalizer. If you have used it to "tune" the room, taking it our will make a huge audible difference, but listen for increased spaciousness, air, soundstage improvements. Maybe you don't need it. The SS3IC is incredibly complex and all those sliders and switches are doing something even if they're off, or centered, and maybe not so good. But it's up to you to decide!

You didn't mention room treatment. I've spent thousands on treatment and it made a much bigger difference, improvement, than any component I changed. Ever. I hired someone. Room treatment can really turn into a "parts cannon" project and sometimes does as much harm as good.

Have fun! Don't succumb to "audiophilia nervosa". Good luck!

(Nice RtoR, btw. I have a TEAC A3300SX, Great fun.)


I’m going to second the comments of onhwy61, baylinor, & fredapplegate.
You’ve got good stuff to enjoy music in ways too few do (see tons of folks listening to ‘music’ on the onboard speakers of a mobile device…sweet Martha…😖)
Avoid the pitfalls of perfection-seeking, overanalysis-of-minutiae, and audio nervosa (all of which completely remove the listener from actually enjoying music), give thoughtful and reasonable attention to the possibilities of room-acoustics-treatment (this is a HUGE player in the optimized-audio-game…ya can’t put a silk hat on a pig…if a room is acoustically bad, there is a bit that can be done, but it feels futile at times because a bad room is just a bad room) and…
…enjoy music!

can anyone actually tell without listening to your system what needs to improve?

all we can do is guess. Are you going to take action on any of the above recommendations? Even that equalizer…I’m pretty sure you like it and that’s why it lives there.

You don’t even mention what you would like to improve on. I’ll be blunt…this is a BS thread.

I concur with audphile post above ...😊

it is ridiculous to advise about a piece of gear isolated in a system and in a room we dont know...

The only wise recommendation is not to upgrade but to try to improve what you had studying the mechanical, electrical and acoustical aspects BEFORE upgrading the right piece ...


Add to that that all these gear focussed people will recommend all different pieces of gear to upgrade ...😁

Acoustic rule audio experience not the upgrade which must be done only when we know how,when and why to do it...




can anyone actually tell without listening to your system what needs to improve?

all we can do is guess. Are you going to take action on any of the above recommendations? Even that equalizer…I’m pretty sure you like it and that’s why it lives there.

You don’t even mention what you would like to improve on. I’ll be blunt…this is a BS thread.

....wayyy off the thread thinking....

What if an "Audiophile AI" was intro'd into Agon?

Any comments from our 'overseers' ?

Less is more in alot of cases. The Panamax is a pos unless for some reason they got better. The cheapest thing to do is the plug everything  direct to the wall.  Lose the equalizer.  Now adjust your sound field by placement  diffusion  and absorption.  Make sure your speakers are level as well as level to each other.ake sure they are exactly  equal distance  from the wall behind them and on either side. Make sure the toe in is exactly  the same. When that is done have a listen  and see what you have. After that is done repost and you can get help from there. Go get the free part and the basic part first. 

if you're using stock power cords that's the first problem get rid of all of them and upgrade them to OCC single crystal power cords and same with your interconnects and speaker wire, OCC single crystal has been proven to be the best wire for audio for over 50 years, there's many good manufacturers harmonic technology, acoustic zen, Zenvfino, and especially Neotech they make rectangular OCC single crystal wire which is even better than the round OCC single crystal wire.

if you're using stock power cords that's the first problem get rid of all of them and upgrade them to OCC single crystal power cords and same with your interconnects and speaker wire, OCC single crystal has been proven to be the best wire for audio for over 50 years, there's many good manufacturers harmonic technology, acoustic zen, Zenvfino, and especially Neotech they make rectangular OCC single crystal wire which is even better than the round OCC single crystal wire. Also putting the Townshend podiums underneath your speakers will be the biggest improvement you could ever do they isolate vibration down to three Hertz and they get rid of almost all room problems, The improvement was as if I had upgraded all my electronics to much more expensive gear.

Here are some easy things

Walk around the room.  Listen for certain frequencies changing volumes.  If you hear nulls or peaks, sound treatment.

If your system has been as is for a while, take all the interconnects and speaker wire apart and clean with DeOxit or Stabillant 22.

Isolate speakers from floor.  I used springs but my speakers have a big footprint.

Any old equipment in 20 to 30 yr range should be checked.

Those are low cost.  Another quick one is the ADD POWR company.  Most expensive one is $4000.  It will just open up the music, make it clearer and has a 30 day audition.. Turn it on and play music.  In 20 minutes, you will hear what it does.  Turn it off to double check.  Turn it back on, etc.  Have fun.

Thank you all for your suggestions and comments.  That helps me make some decisions on how to improve the system.

the system electronics are in a closet system designed for the pieces I have.

the room is challenging as it is 12x18, open with 24 foot at peak vaulted ceilings. I will checkout the suggestions and make changes.

@markley - start with cables. Once you have them n place it’s easier to discern improvements when changing components and speakers.

A very good brand is Audio Envy - great cables at affordable prices.

Next step up from there would be Zavfino

Here’s my thread as to why cables make such a huge difference

I’ve made cables for around 15 years and had great success on rigs of varying prices, from $350 to $70k

Your system can sound much better with the right cables

Once he cables are in place I would then repalce the speakers - Tannoy make some excellent speakes for an afordable price - but there are so many good brands to choose from

Good Luck with your quest - Steve


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@markley Years ago, in one of my previous systems, I used a Panamax power conditioner but eventually switched to an isolation transformer. The isolation transformer dropped the noise floor of the system precipitously and its benefit was immediately apparent. Building the sound of my subsequent systems on such a very low noise floor has worked satisfactorily for me.


I bought new Quad ESL's 15 years ago - and I'm keeping them. The 29 series is very smooth and elegant, and build quality is high. The 28 series is brighter, too bright for my taste. YMMV


I quoted ithe 2nd recommendation for Quad ESL-63 electrostatic speakers, and I will be the third.  I imported a pair of Quads from England in 1985.  I had them rebuilt about 4 years ago which was much needed and a splendid improvement in sound quality.  They are absolutely special speakers, the sort of speakers you want to be buried with, they’re that good.  Their only weakness is they cannot do justice to bass dominant music.  They are ideal for classical and opera, folk and country., piano and violin, guitar, vocals.  You can often find a used pair on eBay and have them rebuilt for far less than one pays for many ordinary speakers.

Hi, @markley ,

Welcome to the forum.

Yes, I would pull the outboard EQ unless it is used to "fix" very significant tonal balance issues. You should here immediate improvements in focus and detail. Room acoustics are a better solution -- if possible.

There are better options for power distribution/surge/conditioning than Panamax. You’ll hear a difference.

I would get my hands on a good variety of good cables (speaker, interconnect AND power), including models above your current budget that can be returned. I would suggest putting on some Depends™ beforehand. I don’t want to be responsible for what happens when the sum of all those improvements arrive at your ears at the same time. I suggest auditioning cables above your current budget for these reasons: a) it may help solidify your target price/performance selection and make your feel more confident in your selection, b) you may discover your next upgrade when time/money make sense to you, or c) you may find yourself using expletives that you wouldn’t use around your grandkids to describe the (improved) sound, determine they are worth the investment -- and just go for it.


what are you trying to make sound better. the entire system or just one source.  Entire system, upgrade cables and speakers.  Your equipment is very nice.

I suggest you need to establish your objectives.  Once you get above the kind of gear you can buy near the checkout line at Best Buy (/s), it's not really about general improvement...rather it is about a direction you feel you need to push your system to. 

What is it you are looking to do?  More bass?  Sharper transients?  Image/soundstage? Wider sweet spot?

Much of this can be accomplished by looking at the room and setup and not about different gear.  Toe-in, toe-out, move out of corner, what have you.  

That said, I do agree that speakers make the biggest difference if you must swap out gear. 

I strongly encourage you to optimize the system you currently have before you  consider replacing any of your major components. I would do the following, in this order:

1. Boot the equalizer

2. Optimize speaker placement and listening position.

3. If your budget and home allow, room tx is important. This can be done physically or electronically. The cost of manufactured room treatments, physical and electronic, can be prohibitive; but, if you’re handy, you can build some yourself using designs available online.

4. Isolate components. In my experience, you can get a  lot of benefit without spending very much $. Vibrapods and Vibrapod cones are inexpensive and reasonably effective. If you can afford a slightly higher price tag, I’ve had good results with Isoacoustics feet and platforms. I use Herbie’s grunge buster between components stand frames and shelves to good effect. 

5. Don’t accept anyone’s views on power conditioning and cabling, not even mine. The value of these elements in your system is an empirical question, and so one you can answer for yourself. Experiment with them! As others have said, exploration of the effects of these kinds of tweaks is one of the joys of the hobby. When I was exploring these elements of my system, I bought and sold used cables until I found the ones I preferred. I usually recovered my investment when I resold the cables, so experimentation cost me almost nothing. You also can borrow cables from places like the cable company or purchase from dealers who have accommodating return policies. Anyway you choose to do it, I encourage you to explore both power and interconnect cabling. I would begin with power cables and a power conditioner. 

6. Once you are happy with the isolation of your components and the performance of your cabling, you are ready to ask the question: what are the weaknesses of my system, and which components should I consider replacing. I would not ask this question until I’ve done the things listed above.

Good luck and have fun.



This is difficult to decide because better speakers, DAC, or analog front end (turntable/arm/cartridge) would yield noticeable sonic improvements.