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Thread Starter 

Hi All

I have been a hifi enthusiast for 20 years, and have swung from Turntables with Solid State amplification to CD with initially Solid State amps then moved to Tubes. Like many I would think, I have trod an expensive and sometimes fraught path to Musical Satisfaction. And from that path I have a theory to where I am now, and would be pleased to hear how other folk out there who have got musical satisfaction (or close to it).

Back in the days of turntables, I was pretty happy with my (speaker based) sound system. Although it was budget, if did sound polite and quite organic / warm, and most records sounded just fine on it. Ok, not incredible detail like today, but none fatiguing and enjoyable. I also ran a pair of Pioneer Planar headphones, which were great for late night listening. I can't remember how many times I fell asleep to crackling Pink Floyd records!

 

 

 

 

Anyway, in the next phase of my search, I dropped 'inconvienient' vinyl and moved to CD. Inistially it was great, easy to use, brighter, more detail. But I found buying up my old record collection on CD was grinding to a halt. I was actually listening to music less. And the reason? Because it sounded bright, sterile and too 'hifi'.

 

At this time, most of the recording studios were pushing DDD mastering as the ultimate in musical reproduction. Ok, it was quiet, no hiss, but somehow didn't sound so real. I put this down to the new closeup microphone recording techniques, combined with digital mastering that resulted in over emphasised treble (details?).

This mated to the typically crude early CD players on the market resulted in an edgy treble that was not so good, in fact worse than vinyl in my opinion. Vinyl seemed to tame the treble somewhat, probably due to a friendly curve down in the frequency response in the vinyl itself and the catridges and phone stages at the time.

 

And I think many realised this, and jumped on the oversampling products that became available in the 90s that claimed to 'clean up' the treble, make it somehow better than the CD itself. In my own experiences, I found this complete rubbish, after jumping from one 'high end' player to the next.

 

 

 

 

In 1997 I finally started to introduce tubes into my system, first with an Audio Note Pre-amp which smoothed out the signal going into my Musical Fidelity A370-2 SS power amp. At that time I was using Kef 107s that had amazing bass extension. Next I added some Stax Lambda Nova Signatures and an SRM-313, to get back to my headphone roots.

All was ok for a while, but more tubes were coming. Next I replaced the SS power amps with 2 x Audio Note Conquest 300b mono blocks, and replaced the big Kefs with some Zingali Horn Hybrids (tube friendly). Now I was really happy, with the beautiful 300b midrange, and the tubes in the pre-amp also feeding the Stax SRM-313. I felt I was somehow back to my old vinyl system in the 80s. Obviously it was much better than that, but my musical enjoyment had returned!

Having owned  various outboard DACs by Pink Triangle, Meridian, I thought I would try a tubed DAC as well. Being on a budget, but obviously by now very happy with Audio Note gear (UK) I bought an Audio Note DAC 1.1 kit.
 

 

This simple kit with an ECC82 Mullard tube was less than £1,000 including Black Gates and AN Copper Caps and only took me 3 evenings to build. It worked first time, and has been flawless ever since. I use a CEC 52 Belt Drive transport to feed the DAC, and now the sound has got very realistic, better midrange and vocals, and NO treble edge at all left in the signal path. The Audio Note DACs (models going up to £25K for the 5.1 factory model) are NONE oversampling or filtered, which they say allows the full Red Book signal to get through. It seems to work for me. I also use Audio Note silver interconnects, as I believe the more Audio Note gear I get into the system, the more it gels together.  I have fine tuned the system with V-Caps and Mullard tubes in the DAC, and Bendix and Tungsol tubes in the pre-amp. 
 
I also upgraded my headphone system to the SRM-717 and SR-007 MKs. The energiser is being fed via the pre-amp-out so amplified, not a tape loop or direct connection. I found it sounds best like that, has better dynamics and more bass. The Stax system sounds superb to my ears, very smooth, detailed but not over the top or emphasised, and with really strong bass. It is also very forgiving, as some rogue CDs are still around, with poor mastering or sound balance. I can listen for hours, and at good levels without fatigue.
 
So, for me with my Stax set-up I found the addition of a tubed DAC with the STAX energiser fed by a tubed pre-amp made a huge difference to the sound.  With the smaller source signals in a DAC and pre-amp, it is most important to get them clean, and free from edge or distortions, as they are going to be amplified 50X or more in the Stax amp or Power amp to your speakers.
 
Adding a tubed DAC might help others to find the sound they are after, instead of going high end tubed or SS electrostatic amps at £4,000+.
 
If you have a good Stax amp, (SRM-717 or 727), and add a tubed Audio Note DAC to the front end, you could find what you are after, and maybe (if you buy one of the kit versions) for less than you think.