Upgrade time! Advice appreciated...

Slow John

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Feb 13, 2021
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Anyone interested in providing a relative newbie with some views on how to upgrade? I’ve been saving up during lockdown.

Current setup is a bit of an entry-level mishmash:

Turntable Pro-ject Debut Carbon. Lots of vinyl.

Amp Denon PMA-520AE.

CD player Kenwood DP-3080. Lots of CDs.

Speakers Acoustic Energy Aegis Evo 1s.

NAS Synology DS115j with a bunch of mostly 320kbps MP3s hooking up to the amp via a Chromecast Audio with Plex.

I have an old NAD 320BEE which still works.

I want to keep the Pro-Ject and the AE speakers – the speakers in particular are amazing for the price I paid for them 18 years ago. It seems a shame to ditch the 320BEE given how much people seem to love it. The rest can go. I want to spend £1,500 - £1,750.

I use Spotify and cast internet radio alot. I like CDs, but would be prepared to start ripping them lossless onto the NAS and ditch having a CD player altogether if streaming from my home server was a better way to get to better sound for the same money.

So how to use the budget most wisely and what other steps to take? I’m most interested in upgrading sound all round – across my existing vinyl, CD and files, as well as streaming. Functionality comes next – obviously if I can be bothered to find and load up a record, I don’t mind a bit of hassle, but I find Plex really a bit of a drag.

The Pro-ject with a new phono stage – is straightforward – probably aiming at £200 for the phono stage. Suggestions?

Amp question: I’m really drawn to the CXA61. Looks just about the right level to aim for and gets great reviews. But could I stick a decent DAC on the back of the NAD I already have and get just as good sound for less budget? How good is the DAC in the CXA61?

Network streamer question: do I need one? I’m drawn to the Bluesound Node 2i. But presumably I could also use the Chromecast Audio as a pickup for casting, running an optical line out to a decent DAC, either in an integrated amp or standalone. Is that a decent alternative to getting a network streamer? It means I'm stuck with Plex but maybe if it means I can spend £500 on better sound elsewhere, that might not be so terrible.

CD player question: in all this, would it make sense to invest in a new, better CD transport, run through a decent DAC? Or save money on that and get a network streamer and start ripping lossless to the NAS?

And finally, is there any way to audition kit during lockdown?

Any suggestions received with much gratitude.

John
 

Slow John

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Feb 13, 2021
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Thanks AI ears, that feels like reasonable advice. Any UK retailers doing any kind of audition system that you're aware of? I assume they could ship shop-opened kit out and charge a small fee, or somesuch.
 
Thanks AI ears, that feels like reasonable advice. Any UK retailers doing any kind of audition system that you're aware of? I assume they could ship shop-opened kit out and charge a small fee, or somesuch.
a lot of questions that I cannot answer now as watching the Rugby. Just to say if you look at an amp with a decent inbuilt phono stage you can save the £200 on an external one.
Spend the money on a cartridge upgrade for that Project.
Phono stages don't change much but DACs do so keep DAC separate from amp
 
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CheshirePete

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Oct 12, 2020
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Thanks AI ears, that feels like reasonable advice. Any UK retailers doing any kind of audition system that you're aware of? I assume they could ship shop-opened kit out and charge a small fee, or somesuch.

You can always return goods to Amazon, I think they may do the CAX61.
 
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D

Deleted member 116933

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Thanks AI ears, that feels like reasonable advice. Any UK retailers doing any kind of audition system that you're aware of? I assume they could ship shop-opened kit out and charge a small fee, or somesuch.
A lot of stores won’t just give you stuff, they have to either met you or you’re a trust customer that purchased before.
Hi fi corner are good store though. Give them a ring and go from there they will guid through it. There might be a refundable deposit you can lay down.
 
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rainsoothe

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Apr 30, 2012
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Hi. Not familiar with your speakers, but from reading around I gather that a CXA61 might be a decent pairing. However, I agree that an audition is mandatory. The DAC in the CA is also not that bad, and possibly an upgrade over the one in the Chromecast.

Other amps you should audition are the Naim Nait 5si (no dac, no phono, look at Schiit Mani + Swagman Labs PSU or Rega Fono MM ) and the Cyrus One HD (both DAC and phonostage, both decent), Musical Fidelity M2si (again, no DAC, no phono) and Rega Elex R (decent phonostage).

If you need a DAC, Topping E30, Chord Mojo (don't remember if this has an optical input) or Denafrips Ares 2 are great at their price points.

If you could find a sh Naim Unitiqute 2 in good condition, that would be great (old software,so no Qobuz or Amazon, but does Tidal and Spotify - besides internet radio and upnp of course - but it sounds absolutely great, and leaves you with plenty of dosh for a cartridge + phonostage upgrade. You'll also want an ethernet connection, as WiFi with Naim (and not only) can be a bit sketchy.

Yes, rip your CD s to your NAS, either FLAC or WAV, with software like dbpoweramp.
 
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matthewpiano

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Nov 23, 2007
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The CD player question is very much down to your preferences, and exactly how large you collection is.

I have 4,000+ CDs and feel no enthusiasm for ripping them to FLAC or WAV. I am contemplating ripping my most listened to ones, though I can get most of them on Qobuz when I'm feeling too lazy to get the disc out, and both CD and hi-res quality streams sound great on my Bluesound Node 2i. Ultimately though, I like having the physical format with liner notes etc. and it's nice to have time away from using any kind of screen, so I'll never want to be without a good CD player.

If you do want to have a CD player, there's no need to spend a lot. A Denon DCD600NE would do the job better than your Kenwood without eating up too much of your budget.
 
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Slow John

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Feb 13, 2021
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Hi. Not familiar with your speakers, but from reading around I gather that a CXA61 might be a decent pairing. However, I agree that an audition is mandatory. The DAC in the CA is also not that bad, and possibly an upgrade over the one in the Chromecast.

Other amps you should audition are the Naim Nait 5si (no dac, no phono, look at Schiit Mani + Swagman Labs PSU or Rega Fono MM ) and the Cyrus One HD (both DAC and phonostage, both decent), Musical Fidelity M2si (again, no DAC, no phono) and Rega Elex R (decent phonostage).

If you need a DAC, Topping E30, Chord Mojo (don't remember if this has an optical input) or Denafrips Ares 2 are great at their price points.

If you could find a sh Naim Unitiqute 2 in good condition, that would be great (old software,so no Qobuz or Amazon, but does Tidal and Spotify - besides internet radio and upnp of course - but it sounds absolutely great, and leaves you with plenty of dosh for a cartridge + phonostage upgrade. You'll also want an ethernet connection, as WiFi with Naim (and not only) can be a bit sketchy.

Yes, rip your CD s to your NAS, either FLAC or WAV, with software like dbpoweramp.
Thanks Rainsoothe. Great suggestions. Without a DAC or phono the Naim probably beats my budget. The Cyrus is just about within it though and a friend has one, so I will see if I can convince him to give it up for a day. the M2si is intriguing at that price (although not so great to look at) and I see Sevenoaks sell them and will see if I can convince them to sell me one on a guaranteed refund basis if I don't like it.

I see you're suggesting a cartridge upgrade - the Debut shipped with an Ortofon Red. What would you upgrade to?
 

Slow John

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Feb 13, 2021
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The CD player question is very much down to your preferences, and exactly how large you collection is.

I have 4,000+ CDs and feel no enthusiasm for ripping them to FLAC or WAV. I am contemplating ripping my most listened to ones, though I can get most of them on Qobuz when I'm feeling too lazy to get the disc out, and both CD and hi-res quality streams sound great on my Bluesound Node 2i. Ultimately though, I like having the physical format with liner notes etc. and it's nice to have time away from using any kind of screen, so I'll never want to be without a good CD player.

If you do want to have a CD player, there's no need to spend a lot. A Denon DCD600NE would do the job better than your Kenwood without eating up too much of your budget.
Thanks matthewpiano - I think we're on the same page.

The Kenwood has an optical out which I've never used. Is there much difference between players used as transporters once the DAC is sitting somewhere else, ie an amp or streamer?
 

ProgDr

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Jan 25, 2021
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I would look at the Musical Fidelity M2si (£600) Integrated with the Audiolab 6000N (£450) Network streamer and invest in a good cartridge for the Project like the Denon DL110 (£220) which works very well with the Project or the Goldring G1042 as previously suggested although this prefers a heavier tonearm and can sound a bit boomy on the Carbon arm.

The Aegis Evo 1 speakers will benefit from the high current output of the MF M2si as they are a speaker that likes to be well controlled but they will be your limiting factor as while they were good budget speakers back in 2010 speaker design has moved on a bit since then,
I would suggest auditioning a pair of Dali Opticon 1 Mk2 speakers (£600) which would balance up your system well.
There are a few good dealers still open and some of the independents are loaning equipment out for demo. I have always found companies such as Moorgate Accousics in Sheffield or Peter Tyson more than accomodating especially while auditioning is so difficult.
 
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Personally I wouldn't recommend the DL110 or any high output moving coil because you cannot replace the stylus when worn, as far as I am aware, could be wrong but know you cannot with the 103, and there are better price-equivalent moving magnet cartridges available
 
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ProgDr

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Jan 25, 2021
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Personally I wouldn't recommend the DL110 or any high output moving coil because you cannot replace the stylus when worn, as far as I am aware, could be wrong but know you cannot with the 103, and there are better price-equivalent moving magnet cartridges available
you can have the DL103 or the 110 retipped which i have found to be cheeper than buying a stylus in many cases. but as the whole cartridge plus stylus is only £220 im not sure i would bother. (stylus alone for the G1042 is £225)
Cartridge Repairs (northwestanalogue.com)
I run a DL110 on an old Ariston and it sounds great for the money i paid. It works especially well on low mass arms. I also ran one on an old Rega 3-24 and it really sang on that.
I wouldnt say that the Denon cartridge is below average or my G2500 is brilliant, they are both different and personally i think they are both great value for money
 
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