Electronics upgrades on opening the midrange/more effortless sound

Hi,

I want to start a topic where everyone can share their setups and the effect a specific electronic upgrade had on opening the midrange, the soundstage and even having more effortless sound from the speakers. This is my main goal in my current setup and I want to hear some experience from you on this topic so that I make a proper investment plan for myself. So, which was the upgrade that had the most prominent effect in this direction (opening the sound, making it come easier out of the speakers)? Adding a separate preamp, moving to more powerful amp, upgrading your source, adding a PSU to some component?

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I don’t know how much help this may be, because when comparing things I don’t normally think about midrange, or soundstage, rather naturalness and clarity. In terms of electronics the biggest changes I have experienced have been changing DAC: Disappointed at the marginal effect adding an XP5XS had on the sound of my ND5XS, I sold it and instead bought a Chord Hugo, fed from the ND5XS. Marked improvement, becoming much more natural sounding to me. Later after changing the renderer I tried Dave in place of Hugo: it gave a dramatic increase in clarity - a literal wow! factor, and once heard there was no question, it was the DAC for me.

But the one thing that I can say was definitely a midrange effect, changing the sound to make it seem as if the singer is in the room, was not electronics at all, but speakers. I appreciate this area is not the intent of your thread, but you may be interested in my experience (if not, just ignore): The change followed having had three speakers in succession (Over 40 years) each of which had been very well regarded for their overall balance, including good midrange. The change was to swap the midrange driver for ATC’s SM75-150 3” dome unit, widely regarded as one of, if not the, best midrange units in the world. (Not a straight swap, because to integrate it I had to adopt active tri-amping - however, I tried the active driving on the original speaker, and whilst the sound improved it was not as significant as the then swapping in the ATC driver.) You don’t mention what speakers you are using? Depending what they are, if midrange is lacking, changing them may be a solution worth considering, as whilst electronics can improve the signal content, or improve control of the speakers, any limitations of the speakers and their drivers will remain.

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Power chords, interconnects, speaker wire, & power regenerators/conditioners – Personally this is where I experienced the biggest upgrade to openness (removing the veil), texture/tone/timbre, macro/micro dynamics, and soundstage. Changing my overpriced power chords and interconnects to those listed on my profile, plus removing a power regenerator from my system was nothing short of shocking (in a good way). Everyone has different criteria but for me these were the most effective upgrades without changing electronics/speakers.

My two-cents…good luck with your search!

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@Innocent_Bystander thank you for your reply! I’m using Monitor Audio Gold 200 5G speakers. I have done several upgrades to the electronics with each the improvement could be easily heard. However I still strugle with improving my midrange as you said. I’m using Naim nDAC without external supply and SN2. Both with my previous Rega DAC-R and the nDAC I often feel the vocals are very distant to me and this breaks the emotional connection I have with music. If I increase the volume they improve but still feel a bit distant. The instruments like piano, drums, guitars are incredible but the vocals seem like not synchronized with them. I have ordered Naim HiCap DR for my SN2 so I will see how it goes but I suspect the midrange problem most probably will be still present. The speakers are moved 80 cm away from the walls and have big toe in but still something feels strange. It might be that they reveal a weak part in the chaing like the source (I’m using Zen Mini MK3) or poor performance of the nDAC without external PSU. Or it migh be lack of enough dynamics on low volumes which should be possible to improve via upgrade in electronics. I don’t know if I’m right, just sharing my thoughts.

This is not an answer as such, but as far as the soundstaging aspect is concerned my understanding is that Naim does not excel in that regard due to its focus on PRaT aspects, perhaps especially in their lower range products. I am unfamiliar with those speakers, so googled, and came across this in a HiFi+ review: Stereo focus is impressive, but there’s no getting the information to expand much beyond the speakers no matter how much fiddling with positioning is indulged in. There’s great unity and coherence to the Monitor Audio Gold 200s, but there’s relatively little of the wide-screen element some similarly sized speakers can deliver.

Hopefully others with direct experience of the components of your system, including the speakers, may be able to help more specifically, or others discussing around the subject as you suggested.

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It’s probably not going to help you much because it also involves speakers as well, but for me it was moving to active ATCs. The built-in power amps and active crossover are around half the cost, so electronics were changed. Never before in many decades of running hifi have I had a system where the musicians, singers in particular, were so vivid. It’s a tired cliché, but the veil was certainly ripped away when I got them. My speakers have a famed midrange driver which helps in this but I heard something similar when auditioning active SCM 19s.

Roger

I have an interesting progress in regards with the openness and soundstage in my system. A week before I started this topic I’ve bought brand new Chord Epic RCA to BNC cable connecting my Innuos Zen Mini Mk3 to my Naim nDac. Before this purchase I also had issues with the openness in vocals and the system sounding more boxy. After around 200 hours the cable probably became fully burned-in and now the difference in the sound is amazing. The speakers fill the room a lot more than before and the vocals became a lot more open and forward which I was striving for. The bass also goes deeper and is a lot fuller. I’m extremely happy with my Chord Epic digital cable and probably it is true that the Naim nDAC sounds best with a BNC input. However I’ve caught the upgrade bug and want to continue updating my system. I’m waiting for a HiCap DR now. :slight_smile: It seems also true that the better your front-end (streamer, CD player, digital cables) the more the nDac gives you. So I might start a new topic with suggestions about a streamer upgrade in my system.

It’s fairly simple. It’s Room, Acoustics, Speaker setup.
You’ll never get great imaging from a bad room and bad acoustics and poor setup. Also some speakers just have the ability to disappear as a source of sound. ProAc’s do this as well if not better than most. But not if pushed in a corner or just a compromised Room and setup

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People often say that Naim doesn’t do soundstage and image, but it does, or at least it can. I’ve heard a 500 system with Wilson Benesch Chimeras and the staging and image was almost holographic. My system is as Naimy as they come and while it doesn’t really do the depth thing, which doesn’t bother me at all, the speakers completely disappear into a broad soundstage that extends way beyond the speakers. For a nice open sound you want good speakers, properly driven, a good source, good clean mains, a good system support, and scrupulous setup. There isn’t a single magic bullet.

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You could try the speakers pointing out more straight or with the apex behind your head.
If they are too toed in you might be hearing the central area more congested, with some elements of the mix sounding good but others shut in.

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When I ran a DAC-r from a Naim Uniti Core into my 500 series I’d just read a forum post from John Honeyball recommending Belden 4794R 12G DVI cable from Bluejeans Cables as a digital interconnect. A DAC was only a temporary arrangement while I waited for the NDS replacement to come out and ripped my CDs so a £300 Naim DC1 wasn’t in the running or even a Chord Clearway, which I borrowed with the demo DAC and made for rather a boring experience anyway but the 4794R which arrived from the States for around £35 and even using a BNC to RCA adaptor on the DAC end, made for a very good emotional connection to the music, especially when combined with filter 3 on the DAC. My expectation was that the digital cable would make very little difference but this wasn’t my experience then and hadn’t been since even with network cables when the ND555 came along. I also tried it with a Chord 2qute and it did help curb the sterility of the Chord DAC but not enough to make it remotely tempting. Honeyball’s recommendation was based on experience with the Naim DAC.
If you try this cable watch out for the radius when you bend it, not too tight.

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In my experience, a more effortless, transparent and legible sound, is not so much the electronics, although clearly they have a key part, but the speaker and room matching.
A room with heavy mid range reflections and comb filter effects is going to require your brain to work harder to decode what is there… ie more tiring and less enjoyable music.

So if you address reflections and speaker/listening position as best you can (it will inevitably be somewhat of a compromise) you may well well be pleasantly surprised and also notice how sound staging and positioning drops into place. I agree with HH, Naim can be outstanding with sound staging at the same time realistic sounds… that is a rarer combo.

Get this right and you notice so much more realistic sounds are, sung vocals sound like vocals rather than brightness tinged electronic facsimiles … it can be quite startling at first… and you start to rediscover your music. You also notice far more how sounds are modified in the mix to provide an effect.

As I say, start with speaker/room coupling then the NAC and everything else tends to follow.

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Yes, I fully agree that speakers can be crucial factors in soundstaging, inevitably of course in conjunction with the room. It is perhaps surprising how often the reference to Naim tending not to be great on soundstaging seems to come up - though whether that is by people with speakers or room setups that limit is another matter. It coours to me to wonder if with Naim it might depend on amplifier(s), the higher the model the less other factors may be compromised in the core thrust for PRaT excellence: did you find an improvement in soundstaging when you changed to the 300?

It certainly made everything a lot bigger, like the speakers are two feet taller. I don’t really get a lot of the hifi speak that people use but what the upgrade to 555 and 300 did, coupled with the SL cables and the plastic mains block was to enable the speakers to completely disappear. That’s probably why I think it’s a bit of everything. I really am not keen on this precise imaging that some seek, where you can hear where every drum is, real music doesn’t sound like that.

Agreed - except perhaps if you stood right in front of an acoustic band, or in the middle of an orchestra! However, whereas from the listening position I wouldn’t expect it to be like that, I can see an interest value in being able to walk between the speakers and stand next to a particular instrument!

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Here is my experience, ranked in the difference they made:

  1. Speakers - the new ones I got last year just disappear and the music seemingly comes out of the air. Really big change from the previous, which are well regarded workhorses but now seemingly dull sounding in comparison. (went from Rega RX3’s to Audio Physic Classic Compacts).

  2. Power supply on the streamer - a better power supply instead of the wall wart on your Zen mini might make a big difference. I got Sonore Power Supply for my microRendu last year and it was much better than the well regarded Uptone LPS-1 it replaced. Plenty of options out there, US or UK.

  3. Networking. BJC Cat 6a cables, Sonore opticalModule fiber bridge and Cisco 2960 switch(es) all helped focus and sharpen the sound.

  4. analog cables - more diminishing returns imo than the above, but all can help once the foundation is set.

@charlesphoto Thank you for your comment! I actually am using the Innuos LPSU for my Zen Mini but started wondering whether to upgrade my Innuos streamer to a Naim NDX or ND5XS. If I get a Naim streamer I would have a compelete Naim system which would guarantee great synergy. In addition I have also only Chord cables which make great combination with Naim.

I completely agree that the room acoustics together with speakers and their positioning have the most impact in terms of soundstage and as a whole to the sound. That’s why I wanted to narrow the focus in this topic to review only upgrades in electronics or cables that you found beneficial for improving the opening of the midrange and soundstage. Of course most probably if your speakers are not very good or you have a very bad listening room whatever you try to upgrade in your electronics might not be of much help.

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And I’d like to add the “XLO Reference Recordings, Test and Burn in CD” is a wonderful disc for setting up and fine tuning a system. Worth every Shilling

I thought some might be interested… Texas Instruments who make the DAC chips and some of the electronic components used by Naim, have produced an audio primer white paper addressing the importance of characterisation of speaker positioning and managing reflections in a listening environment to get the best sound quality from a system if that is the ‘desired response’. They also address using REW to capture the state of the listening environment.

http://www.ti.com/lit/an/slaa641/slaa641.pdf

It is interesting as they take some of the same principles as one would if designing an electronic product like a preamp or amp.

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I want to share my latest experiences. My HiCap DR arrived and it completely transformed the sound of my system. The midrange and the soundstage opened a lot and I hear also more details! I wasn’t expecting as much improvement. While these factor improved a lot and this was the biggest thing I missed in my system (more open midrange) now I experience a weaker and not so punchy bass. It was very strong and punchy in the beginning but after a while the HiCap started opening a lot while at the same time loosing the bass. It is a second-hand device and has been running for a week. Has someone experience something similar and should I expect the bass to get fuller like before?