Seeking ideas about how to improve my system

Hi all.  I recently purchased a pair of Hifiman Susvara headphones, and the experience of listening to them is absolutely sublime.  I particularly enjoyed the clarity of detail and the very realistic timbre of the instruments.  Tone, timing, and spatial representation were wonderful.   I listen primarily to jazz, classical, bluegrass, and, though much less than in the past, rock.  Favorite musicians include Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, Brad Mehldau, Mark Knopfler, Mark O’Connor, Joshua Bell, and many cellists.  
BUT, I would like my full system to produce that kind of experience too!  I’m looking for any and all feedback as to how to tweak or upgrade my system so that I can moved towards this type of experience.  I would expect to spend up to $20K, possibly more, over the long run (meaning years), so I am expecting a process and would also like feedback as to what to do first.  My room is about 20’ x 20’ x 9’ as a very rough estimate.

my components:
Sonus Faber Sonetto V’s
2 REL Ti7’s
Lyngdorf TDAI 2170
Manley Chinook phono amp
VPI Prime Scout with upgraded platter and tonearm, on a Townshend seismic platform
Ortofon Quintet black mc cart
Modwrighted Marantz SACD player and power source
Chord DAVE DAC/amp/preamp
Aurender N100C network streamer using Qobuz
Audioquest Rocket 88 speaker cables
Shunyata power cables (a mix)with Shunyata power distributor 
Shunyata, Nordost blue heaven, and Cardas clear interconnects

My analog end became downright unimpressive after I added the DAVE and the Aurender to my digital end, but the Susvara bests it all (in SQ, I realize it is just a headphone and not a full system).

Looking forward to responses.

  • — akajek

128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xjeankunin
I only have a few minutes. But sounds like I was where you were a year ago.
I upgraded my headphone system to an Aurender N100, a brand new Ayre DAC, and Woo 300B high powered amp... Focal Utopia, Sennheiser 800s... anyway, the rich warm detailed experience bested my main system. Hence... I upgraded my Sonus Faber Olympica to Amati Traditional... then a cascade of other upgrades. I had a VPI Aries turntable. Which I upgraded to a Linn LP12.
My current main system is Aurender WE20SE, Audio Research REF CD9se, ARC REF6 SE preamp, LP12 Akura, Koetsu Rosewood Signature, ARC REF3 phono stage and ARC REF160s
I have spent a lot of time on the sprung vs unsprung turntable. Ultimately choosing a sprung. I would say my analog end is a bit better than my digital end. Both are astonishing... about 31K for the analog, and 41K for digital. I will probably do the $10K upgrades to the Linn to the top level. Off the top of my head, I am thinking a table and cartridge upgrade will do it. I'll try and come back to this later today.

How's that room treatment? Any heavy curtains or something to control the bass and blistering highs? I'm hearing a big square box from here that the slap test would say a lot about..

What say you OP? An room treatment, carpets, furniture or drapes?

1/2 of the listening experience is the ROOM, the other half is everything else.. 

Your headphones proved that... :-)

Your gear if fine.

It's your speaker setup(not your speakers) and room.
If you don't have those things out 4-5 feet and 3+ feet from the side walls
you're not hearing what they can do. Room itself addressed with appropriate damping/duffusion. Address those issues, then you can decide if whatever existing equipment is deficient.

If the setup is in a living space-strike out. Do what  you can with speaker placement and open a beer. Additional cable/tweaky doo dadds will just drain your wallet-if that's what you want.

Have you considered trying out any other speaker cables?  In my opinion it could be your weakest link.  I had the Rocket 88’s a while ago, then upgraded to AQ’s higher line (higher gauge copper) which produced a far larger range from treble to bass.  It made a huge difference.  I ended up upgrading to Mont Blancs, Oak, then Thunderbird before decided to go with a full loom of Ansuz cables.

Also, for your interconnects, where do you have the Nordost Blue Heaven connected?  Analog or digital?  I had Blue Heaven speaker cables in my system and while, to me, it sounded crisp on the highs, it lacked mid-bass and bass.  It may be different on interconnects, just something to consider.  You have very different types of interconnects, have you tried swapping them around?
The room is carpeted except under the speakers, the rack is off to the side, the 4 windows have large fabric shades, there is a fabric couch along the wide wall facing the speakers about 10’ in from the back wall behind it, the speakers at 5’ in from the side walls but only 1’ out from the rear wall., and there is a thick 5’ x 7’ Persian rug hanging on the wall between the speakers.
This ISN'T a "one size fits all ears" guide. Just gives more perspective

Don't forget-that undamped ceiling is a factor in attempting to tame a room. Look at any serious sound room-their are tiles on the ceiling.

1 foot from the wall isn't going helping with creating the illusion of depth and spaciousness. Works for dialing in bass, but then compromise on everything else. The balancing act can be challenging. That's where your subs kick in- to make for having the speakers way out in the room.
Manley Chinook phono amp
VPI Prime Scout with upgraded platter and tonearm, on a Townshend seismic platform
Ortofon Quintet black mc cart

And yet
My analog end became downright unimpressive after I added the DAVE and the Aurender to my digital end
Sorry, but either this is a troll or you are trying to put legs on a snake. I give even odds. Either way, no way to help a man in such a sad state of confusion.

Oh, and headphones put the sound inside your head. The system puts the sound stage before you. Legs on a snake! Again, no way to help a man so deeply conflicted.

   "...I recently purchased a pair of Hifiman Susvara headphones, and the experience of listening to them is absolutely sublime..."

I think most of us have had this experience. A good headphone will drive you to upgrade your loudspeaker system. No other choice, the headphones have shown your system is lacking and you will need a big upgrade to reach or surpass your headphone system. So I'd start with a big loudspeaker upgrade and then start thinking about an amp/preamp.  
MC I had snake leg soup just the other day.. They have um, there is just a shortage.. LOL

Gear heavy, I'm guilty of it too. Simple is better...

The room seems to have some dampening, but MC does have a point, I haven't got a clue what you added.  I'm pretty sure if I don't know what it is, I probably don't need it..

I'm using a phono stage in a C20 Mac with a V15 MM cart. It still sounds better then my Sony ES silver spinners. 

I just listened to a new release of Carlos, (the wifes favorite) She won't say what she spent. LOL (I'm cheap)

 Holy Moly... I though I had a whole new pair of ears. I'm not kidding, wow they did a good job. It had to be mastered from tape, it had to be, or some kind of hybrid thing.. THAT is a serious mix on vinyl..

I use to get vinyl for radio stations, that's what it sounded like.. I KNOW the wife knows the difference, she will spend, I won't.. I'll spend money on gear and room treatment and drapes and carpet, but the wife. EXPENSIVE records.. The Rolling Stones, she would mortgage the house..

One integrated Mac SS. One TD124 TT, 2 QSO808 speakers, cables and a router. The wife's set up.. You should hear it.. PERFECT...
35hz to 16K

She can hear better, but she will move a speaker on ya.. You have to be careful.. Pushing around 390 lb  speakers.. Toe rag...

It’s not that headphones necessarily show what your speakers are lacking it’s that phones take the room entirely out of the equation. Your gear seems fine I would work on your room if you want to improve things.
Speaking of confused.....
Give it a rest.
Good luck to you OP.
Can & speakers ARE different animals.
I truly appreciate the constructive responses.  I was wondering most myself about the quality of my speakers, as well as my speaker cables.  As for room treatment, I completely forgot about the ceiling.  Thank you! I will definitely  work on adding more dampening,  and on speaker placement further into the room.  Thanks tablejockey for the link.  MC I have learned tons from your many posts, look forward to them, and was hoping you’d have something valuable to say to me.  Too bad you had to sling crap at me instead, guess you still have something to prove.  I took you seriously about the Townshend podiums.  Wish you’d taken me seriously as having an important, to me, question that I apparently could have been clearer about.  GHDprentice, so many parallels between my gear and your previous gear and where we started with headphones,  thanks for spelling out where that took you in the development of your current system!  That was the process I was trying to understand, and was valuable to hear.  I’ll look those pieces up. Oldhvymec, I don’t think I got the points you were making, a bit more stream of consciousness than I could sort out, so an clarification is welcome.  Will also fiddle with my interconnects.  As for better speakers,  I’m thinking about higher end SF’s, Harbeths, maybe Focal high end some day.
Buy this, then remove the plug and attach the wires to your circuit breaker box and your problem on how to improve your audio system will be behind you:

There's a lengthy thread on this device here on A'gon.

@jeankunin, I know what you are experiencing.  At one point I heard a $2K tube system that I found more listenable and accurate that the much higher priced system I had at home.  I had long list of different components I kept switching out until I found an integrated with a built-in DAC/streamer having a sound signature I liked and I couldn't be happier.  I will end up going back to separates at some point again but at least I know that the sound I am looking for exists and which brands of amplifiers and cables it took to get there.

While room treatment should make a good impact on sound, I have found that you can at least tell if you like the overall instrument realism, timbre, etc. straight out the speakers.  You can then use the room treatments to fine tune the sound to balance highs, mids, and bass if there are issues.  Of course this could be just me. :)
I think you could gain a lot by better speaker placement. A 20'x20' room is quite susceptible to standing waves.  The best speaker and listening position placement will avoid the positions where there are peaks and nulls of the standing waves. This will keep the speakers from unnecessarily exciting the room modes. Assuming your room is indeed 20' deep exactly, the major positions to avoid are 20'/2, 20'/3, and 20'/4, i.e. 10', 6'8", and 5' from the walls. A good place to begin would be to place the front of your speakers at the midpoint between 5' and 6'8" from the wall behind them, i.e. 5'10", and at the same distance from the side walls. This will make them 8'4" apart on centers. The listening position can be placed similarly from the wall behind it.  If your room is not exactly 20'x20' adjust the numbers appropriately. Fine tuning must be done by ear but this will give you a starting point. You might find moving the listening position a little farther from the speakers helps them blend a little better.
Well, you are in trouble, in financial trouble. Room treatment comes last, if your near field listening experience confirms your impressions.
You may need to spend ten times more on your speaker based system to equal headphone based system. Hopefully less.
Speakers and speaker cables is where I would start. I would get rid of that Nordost interconnect as well, regardless of where it is now.
I wouldn't upgrade analog front end until I get digital sounding about equal to digital through the headphones. Then I would take care of analog. Good luck, this is going to be interesting.
Yes, my speaker based system is about ten times more expensive than headphone based system. It sounds better but the difference is moderate not big, except bass which is much better with speakers.
I was an early responder to this topic string, who mentioned I was in the same place as I had upgraded my headphone system to be much better than my main system. After upgrading my main system I haven’t picked up my headphones. I have a little time now to think about your system. I looked up the equipment you have that I didn’t know. Interesting. I would say given what I know about your equipment you have it pretty well balanced at this point. It looks to me you put a lot of thought into it. I don’t know much about the integrated amp and have to think that this is one of the opportunities. A really good preamp is a critical asset.
My rule one is: minimum upgrade is 2x cost of each component. This will give you a "wow" that sounds a lot better. High end audio has been my passion for over 50 years, so I have gone through many upgrade cycles to reach a new plateau each time. Then stay there for 5 to 10 years.
First thing. Given your equipment, your analog end should sound better than your digital end... at least the same. I know VPI... so I am thinking you should consider upgrading your cartridge. I would double the cost. Still not an astronomical expense... I just can’t see anything else holding it back.
Overall concentrating on the following will improve both analog and digital ends. So, you get more bang for the buck as well.
I have effectively used very inexpensive speakers with subwoofers for my system for years. But ultimately they can hold a system back. I think it likely the SF at that level may be a bit of a weak link. Sonus Faber makes great speakers... I endorse them Olympica and above. But some of the less expensive are light on detail and overall presentation. I had some Cremona... I liked the sound but they were not very detailed. A word of caution... I know you want more detail... but be careful not to step too far and loose the musicality. For a long term plan... I would upgrade the speakers first. Think about going to the $10 - $12K range. This would be a project in itself. Then preamp, and the amp. While I don’t know much about that integrated... so much of your equipment seems good it is hard not to suspect it. Separates at say $5K or so each, but consider more on the preamp... it sets the stage for everything. At the $5K component level you are on a whole new plane... and with speakers in the $10K range... it should be really spectacular upgrade. The experience should best your headphones, maybe not completely in detail but in overall presentation, imaging, bass, musicality.
I suggest you audition a lot of speakers. Normally I would recommend Sonus Faber speakers given the music you like... but perhaps you want more detailed oriented speakers. Wilson maybe... or maybe check out SF Olympica if you like the overall tonal balance and musicality. They can do a lot with really good input. You could go planar... but it opens up such a can of worms. I pursued planar for most of my audiophile years and ultimately decided the incredible fine detail was really secondary to musicality, and now have an all tube system... has the detail, but doesn’t stick it in your face... it has fantastic rhythm and pace, musicality, bass, and detail.

Fiddle with your room and speakers in the mean time. A lot of improvements can be made there. I am lucking to have accidentally bought a house with a fantastic huge open plan man cave with near perfect acoustics... then I added diffusers and tube traps... I was more lucky than good.
Yeah, I think my main system is about 10x the cost of my headphone system... but then it blows away my headphones. Maybe equal in detail, but 10X better overall. An absolutely worthwhile investment.
Thank you all very much for your feedback.  I have a LOT to think about.  Fortunately, as you well know, the process itself is fun.  Your responses differ, but a pattern is emerging as to how I need to approach this.  I appreciate the your time and thoughtfulness, your knowledge, wisdom and experience, and your willingness to share it.