These are discussed in the context of my current "reference" system installed in my basement's dedicated audio room. The basics of that system are:
- Sources: Day-Sequerra M4.2R HD tuner, Logitech Squeezebox Touch with Enhanced Digital Output software, Electronic Visionary Systems (EVS) modified Oppo BDP-105 (which also acts as a switching preamp/volume control for disc and other source playback)
- Equalizer: Audient ASP-231
- Electronic Crossover: Gradient HE Crossover at 200 Hz
- Amps: Four Sanders Magtech Monoblocs
- Speakers: Gradient Revolution Actives, augmented by Gradient SW-T woofer towers which add six additional 12" dipoles woofers per side, for a total of eight 12" woofers per side
- Wires: DNM balanced interconnects and speaker wires, with DNM HFTN high frequency termination networks at each end of every wire; Absolute Power Cords; Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 USB for connection of Squeezebox Touch to Oppo; XLR-to-coax digital cable for connection of Day-Sequerra tuner to Oppo.
- Room Treatment: Lots of four-inch-thick classic Sonex
- Equipment Racks: Arcici Suspense for front end components; Minus K platform for amps.
For the player mods see: http://www.tweakaudio.com/EVS-2/Oppo_105_Mods.html (the all-out mod)
For the Ground Enhancers, see: http://www.tweakaudio.com/EVS-2/EVS_...Enhancers.html (used on all electronic components)
For the Black Discus, see: http://www.madscientist-audio.com/fr...e-blackdiscus/
For the mounting tweaks, see: http://www.goldensound.com/productlist/dh-cones (the Jumbo model, which is the next to largest one); https://walkeraudio.com/?product=val...ce-control-kit (three Walker 1-inch-thick resonance control discs); http://shop.mapleshadestore.com/prod...ber=18X15X4-CL (Mapleshade Audio 4"-thick, solid maple platform 18" x 15"); http://shop.mapleshadestore.com/products.asp?dept=1 (set of four Mapleshade Audio Isoblock 1 rubber supports)
The player mods are done by Ric Schultz at his Electronic Visionary Systems facility. The Black Discus is something that Ric recommends that users of his modified player add. The user just lays the Black Discus atop a few capacitors near the DAC which feeds the two-channel analog outputs. The Black Discus is positioned rough side up, approximately centered over the DAC chip, parallel to the circuit board and about a half inch above the DAC chip. It can be held in place by a bit of Blu-Tac if you like; I do.
The mounting system I'm now using for the disc player came about when, being so impressed with the sound of my system with his player mods and Ground Enhancers, I asked Ric Schultz how he mounted his player in his reference system. Player mounting has always been sonically important, in my experience, from my first Sony 701ES decades ago right down to the present. Ric says he's been using this same method for over six years now and has not changed it "because it just works." He mounts his disc player on the floor--he mounts all his equipment on the floor. I used to do that, too, but it was too inconvenient, even for me, so I've been using an equipment rack for several years now. Other than that, I'm now following Ric's advice as closely as I can while still incorporating my convenient equipment rack. From the floor up, I have, in this order:
- Air suspension. Ric uses an air bladder on the floor; I use the top shelf of my Arcici Suspense Rack whose top metal/acrylic shelf is directly supported by three 8" air bladders which sit in a wooden tray just under the rack's top metal/acrylic shelf.
- A Bright Star Little Rock is centered atop the acrylic sheet of the top shelf. This Little Rock is small enough not to touch the following items in the stack.
- Three Mapleshade Audio Isoblock 1 rubber feet, arranged radially (long axis of the rectangular supports pointed toward the center of the platform) near the two back bottom corners and front center of the . . .
- Solid Maple platform. I'm using a 4"-thick Mapleshade Audio maple platform with a clear lacquer finish.
- Three Walker Audio 1"-thick resonance control disks sitting atop the maple platform, arranged so that . . .
- Three Golden Sound DH Cones, the Jumbo size, which is the second largest version of the DH cones, used points down, contact the resin of the Walker disks, with the cones arranged at the back two corners of the player and at the front center of the player. The thin felt pads which come attached to the flat sides of the DH cones should be left in place so that the felt contacts the bottom metal side of the player. The player's four stock feet--which are located at the four corners--are all removed. The mounting of the foot in the center front is in the valley in the bottom silvery metal piece about an inch back from the front. The footer fits snugly in that valley and this spot is at least as good sonically as any other spot for the front footer.
- The player with the cover removed.
The presence of any cover on the player alters the presentation considerably. After using the player with the stock cover, without any cover, and with two different models of Bright Star Little Rock atop it to form a modified cover, I have concluded that coverless is the best sounding arrangement once I arranged the bass equalization of my Audient ASP231 balanced analog 1/3-octave graphic equalizer (used only in the signal path with the woofers, that is, only below 200 Hz) and the Gradient HE crossover volume control to my satisfaction (that is, a fairly rich warm bass).
Sonic Bottom Line: The improvement in CD/HDCD/SACD,HRx, FM, and Internet streaming playback wrought by the combination of the EVS modifications to the Oppo BDP-105 player (new player and all-out mods cost about $3,000 total), the EVS Ground Enhancers (about $150 worth of those), the free sample Black Discus, about $600 worth of new mounting tweaks for the player, and the extra diddling with low frequency electronic equalization makes a considerable improvement in my listening satisfaction over a very broad range of commercial recordings and program sources.
Getting the low frequency EQ right makes for improvements in low frequency weight and warmth while not giving up an iota of the bass definition I had before. The rest of the improvements described below were there before I got the bass EQ to its now seemingly just-right state, so I will assume they are the product of the EVS modifications to the Oppo, the EVS Ground Enhancers, the Black Discus, and the mounting tweaks (collectively referred to as the "EVS stuff" below).
The EVS stuff, changes the fundamental listening experience through a combination of improvements that adds so much to listening involvement that most program material is an entirely new and more realistically involving experience. Things that were wrong with my best playback before are just gone or so reduced as to easily allow suspension of disbelief. Stuff that was right is enhanced. So complete is the transformation in system sound that I could just say that the sound is considerably (not just significantly ) better in every way.
That would be basically correct. But here's a more specific account, as best as I can express it. This may be inexact and ambiguous verbalization, but I think that the shared experience of those who have played with tuning audio systems will allow most here to get a decent grasp of what I'm hearing.
I'm in the recorded space and the band is playing RIGHT THERE in front of me in a drastically increased and defined space, with envelopment galore, and enhanced dynamic contrasts at both the soft and loud end. Before, I thought the Gradients had considerable inherent limitations on their ability to play at high levels without dynamic restraint and increased distortion. Not anymore. There is now clean wallop in abundance on tap now at average levels high enough to totally satisfy me on all material.
All sorts of high frequency nasties are just gone--vanished into thin air. Many recordings that before had such nasties--grit, grain, grunge, edge, excess sibilance, etc.--are now clean as a whistle. The highs are not rolled off. They are there, but smoothed and pristine, with a degree of differentiation and filigreed quality (especially noticeable in cymbal sounds) which was previously absent. Remarkable, sometimes astonishing. The only time I've experienced anything like this before was with the Sanders 10C electrostats, but even they could not make a silk purse out of a seeming sow's ear the way the EVS stuff does. The Mercury Living Presence recordings are still way too bright, but that brightness is now so clean that I could almost care less since I'm standing at the conductor's podium and the brass and woodwinds are RIGHT THERE.
A word about the EVS Ground Enhancers alone: These have gotten mixed reviews from others online. I had thought that I might hear little effect from these, given that I'm already using the cleanest sounding interconnects and speaker cables (DNM) I've ever heard and that cleanness is further enhanced by a full complement of DNM HFTNs in parallel with the wires. Wrong. With every component, adding a $30 EVS Ground Enhancer to one of the component's ground connections (like a chassis screw, pin 1 of a balanced XLR connection, the black terminal of a speaker binding post, or the outside of an unused RCA jack) cleaned things up yet further to a significant degree and the effects of adding one to every component are cumulative. Going back and forth with and without the things is easy enough and the effect is not subtle.
Back to the cumulative effect of all the EVS stuff: Details captured in recordings that either weren't audible at all before or were only vaguely there, are revealed in an obvious way which adds to musical meaning, involvement, and my ability to hear "into" the recording--what was happening in front of the mikes when the recording was made. The energy and life of the musicians is so much more obvious, as is keeping track of what each player is doing at any given moment. This is so despite the top octaves seeming considerably smoother and more naturally integrated than before. Different recordings sound considerably more different from each other than before, but most all of them sound more naturally real in tonal balance and clarity. Real detail and real clarity, in other words, not "ruthless revelation."
Bass sounds deeper, punchier, with more power and growl, and yet more defined and differentiated. The definition part is already a strong point of these dipole-woofered speakers, but the EVS equipment takes this to a new level.
Besides the larger space and envelopment, what we normally think of as imaging and staging has changed a lot for the better. Individual images--especially soloists near the front of the stage centered or left or right--have an unprecedented amount of palpable presence, roundness, and three dimensional body to them, while at the same time sounding startlingly clean and naturally balanced. The stage is expanded both front to back and top to bottom.
Without very careful set up, the point-source-like Gradient Revs can sound like the sound is coming through a horizontal slit, without much height to the stage. My previous set up greatly ameliorated this problem. But now, without changing the physical positioning of anything in my system, the stage height bears no relation to the physical height (short) of the speakers at all, allowing all instruments to emanate from straight ahead, at a natural height on the stage and projecting their ambiance way up on many recordings. I can clearly hear sounds emanating from the placement of instruments and voices on the stage and expanding outward, upward, and/or from one side to the other as they often do live. Even so, the placement and stability of images on the stage is yet more defined.
The sonic background is blacker. This seems primarily to relate to the particular way the player is now mounted. By comparison with this new mounting system, the background can seem a bit or more "gray" or "noisy" without this mounting method. My old method was the best I knew about until now, and I've tried many different support methods and combinations, looking for the best combination of black background, tonal balance, clarity, reduction in high frequency nasties, and spatial characteristics. This new method is very obviously better in terms of sonic results--a no brainer which takes just a few seconds to hear.
There is a larger space for my head within which the spatial aspects of the presentation are stable. I've never experienced this sort of spatial stability before. Moving a few inches this way or that does not cause the spatial effects to fall apart as they did before.
The physical position of the speakers disappears entirely on many recordings. The "carved in space" presentation is very strong without sounding at all phasey.
Think a greatly lessened awareness that electronics are between you and the music. Think unamplified. That's the direction these things move the system sound. And it's a quite considerable move in that direction.
I have no real idea why the EVS equipment and recommended tweaks do what they do. Reduced jitter and just finer analog electronics perhaps, but that's pure speculation. I can't blame those who dismiss my claims of sonic improvements as ridiculous and unverifiable since I have no plausible explanation for what seem to me to be the considerable improvements in the presentation. For me the communicated connection with the music and the space (real or electronically fabricated) in which the music was performed is overwhelmingly stronger and better now than when I was using the stock Oppo BDP-105 without the Ground Enhancers and the player support methods now used in this otherwise-unchanged system.
Back to the sum total of the changes wrought by the EVS stuff and the EQ changes: The naturalness of the tonal balance of the system seems greatly improved. The sum of subjectively lowered distortion, more powerful yet more defined bass, more warmth, greater midrange naturalness and detail, and subjectively more relaxed highs moves the result further toward tonal realism. I'm not saying that this system yet sounds as tonally realistic as my Harbeth M40.1s in the midrange. The Gradients still sound a bit less tonally natural than those. There is an area around 800 Hz which needs to be pulled down a bit in level if I can find an EQ device which doesn't screw up the gains wrought by the EVS stuff. But the moves are all in the right direction and this combination of better subjective balance plus all the other improvements means that I find the Gradient system totally superior to any system I've set up around the Harbeths--or any other speakers I've ever owned, for that matter. But, if maximal midrange magic is most of your major musical mojo, I suspect that my living room Harbeth M40.1 system could be yet closer to what you're after.