Hybrid Heaven

It’s taken me a while but I’m finally in a place where I’m pretty happy with my rig. It’s a hybrid system in terms of 2-channel and home theater with focus on both analog and digital. Really there’s more 2-channel emphasis than HT, honestly, but it does well with both. So there. Components as follows:

PS Audio P10 (most important items) & Audioquest Niagara 1000 (everything else)

Mcintosh MC205 5 channel solid state amp

Anthem AVM 60 pre/pro

PS Audio Directstream DAC with Bridge II

PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter (mainly used for ripping vinyl) - use PSA LANRover from NPC to Mac Mini

Rogue Audio Ares phono preamp with Amperex Bugle Boy 12AX7 with treble clef '61 matched tubes

Fern & Roby Montrose turntable with Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star cartridge

Schiit Audio Lyr 2 headphone amp with HifiMan HE-400S

Apple Mac Mini server stripped down with Roon running to Epson 5030 projector

B&W 804 D3 Diamond speakers

JL Audio Fathom 110 dual subs

Rack custom made high grade maple plywood with wrought iron by a friend


Nice setup!

Cool! Had you had any Soundsmiths prior to the Star? I have the MIMC, and for some dumb reason thought it was maybe too close to digital (I would forget I wasn’t listening to digital, and then the album side would end). I emailed the Soundsmith guy (his name slips my mind at the moment) and though he didn’t see why I had a problem, he said the Zephyr III was possibly “more romantic”. That sounded good on paper, and I wanted to try a HO version, so I got one, and it wasn’t better. Thought maybe I shoulda got the Star.

The Star is sublime. Awesome detail and impact. Incredible channel separation. I used the Feickert Adjust+ disc to set up the azimuth and got it dialed in so that I had -35 dB in each channel, which is an incredible result. Better than most $5000 carts. The frequency response is slightly tilted to the bass and it’s palpable, but it’s not like the treble is weak in any fashion. On the contrary, the highs are clear and luscious. It surprises me every time I listen to it. Just a great cart.

I listened to the Zephyr II (not the III) for a bit and liked it so much i decided on the Star. The Zephyr doesn’t have the ultimate detail of the Star but it has a similar overall sound. Peter Lederman is truly a genius. Also a very nice guy, from what I’ve heard. One thing to keep in mind, you need phono pre that is up for the job with the LO cart like that. The NPC works well with it, and is easily configureable for the low output cart, but I like the sound of the Rogue Ares a little more. I did have to go with the higher output 12AX7 Amperex Bugle Boys to get the proper output level since it’s a 0.4 mV cart. What a fantastic combo!

badbeef said

Cool! Had you had any Soundsmiths prior to the Star? I have the MIMC, and for some dumb reason thought it was maybe too close to digital (I would forget I wasn’t listening to digital, and then the album side would end). I emailed the Soundsmith guy (his name slips my mind at the moment) and though he didn’t see why I had a problem, he said the Zephyr III was possibly “more romantic”. That sounded good on paper, and I wanted to try a HO version, so I got one, and it wasn’t better. Thought maybe I shoulda got the Star.

Hey Beef, are you running you analog front end through the DEQX? Doesn’t that convert all signals to digital?

Have you tried just using your just your VTL phono stage, and don’t you have a VTL analog preamp too, or are they combined?

It may not be the cartridge that makes you think it sounds digital. Just some speculation, as I don’t how necessary the DEQX is, or how transparent it is.

Not Beef but I highly doubt that a high quality component like the DEQX adds any digital glare in it’s processing. In my experience any slight detriment to ADC/DAC going on with signal processing (and I highly highly doubt there is any - take that, purists!) is more than made up for by room correction, and in the case of the DEQX, dealing with phase shifts/timing errors. If I didn’t have HT to deal with, I would strongly consider this unit.

I think the “digital” sound he appreciated with the SS cart is merely a consequence of it being an excellent cart with detailed highs, low noise floor, and very low crosstalk, like digital. Just a thought.

OK - lemme see:

I think perhaps it was that I was coming from years of Benz Micros, which (at least at this lower price tier) are more “romantic sounding”. The MIMC required the NPC be turned up so high that some small hum was audible in silence. Not terrible, but you can hear that it’s cranked.

I’m running analog in and out of the DEQX with no processing on (2 XLR in from DSJ and 4 out to speakers/subs, all full range). So, pretty sure it’s not going digital. One of the issues I have with it (at least this model) is the chip is 24/96. The digital section/conversion is audible. And I still ultimately don’t like room correction (which might more properly be called “speaker output correction to suit the room”). So - dumb that I’m still using the thing at all, but it is a very transparent gain stage, which suits my setup, and provides a (koff, koff) Remote Control. I realize the same can be accomplished with the DSJ alone, and some swear by running it direct - usually because they can’t imagine putting anything in between could improve things - but it does. If/when I can afford a BHK Pre, I would swap them out.

I’ve been meaning to put the VTL in there for an extended time, but I don’t currently have really good long enough RCAs for the job. The VTL has a built-in phono pre. When I got the NPC, I did some quick comparative rips to digital, and the NPC sounded remarkably good/close to the VTL, but has more clean gain - which is needed with the MIMC, as noted above.

When I said the MIMC sounded “digital” it was actually that I had never had a cart that reproduced such a broad frequency range so cleanly - Peter is indeed a nice guy, and wondered why I thought that was a problem ; ). But I was having a bout of audiophilia, and was thinking if I could get that sort of performance in a HO cart, the noise would go down, and I might get some added warmth. But nope - the MIMC is clearly (haha) better than the Z3.

One of the things I think helps give the “digital” impression is the impressive channel separation. One gets used to carts giving you a “solid center image”, which sometimes is audio hype for “poor channel separation”. I also liked that, rather than doing a painful, drawn out process to determine proper azimuth with lots of math and so on, was he said (I’m paraphrasing here from memory), “just measure the output voltage on each side (with pink noise tracks) until it gets as low as possible - not necessarily the SAME. It may be a bit more in one side or the other, but you’ll have the greatest separation.”

Actually - see this for his explanation:


It’s funny you mention that because when I setup the cart I noticed I couldn’t get the intersection of the left and right channel separation to coincide with the intersection of phase angle using Feickert Adjust+. This usually means that overhang, VTA (or SRA if you will) or VTF is off. I double checked everything and it was all good. I finally settled on the phase intersection with the crosstalk slightly asymmetric, but still very low and -35 dB minimum. Then I saw that article you linked and it all made sense. I had done the right thing after all! It’s just that the performance on the cart is so good, it is hard to get the crosstalk perfect at such a low number. And at such minimal crosstalk, you won’t hear it if it’s a little off anyway, as long as you choose at or near the lowest point of the higher number, which I had done. Ah, turntables!

DEQX HDP-4 converts all signals to digital and back to analogue regardless of the input and settings. It is however very transparent. I thought you might be using it for integration of the Quads and the subs. I have also thought about adding subs to my 2905’s but with Huron I think subs may not really be as much of an impact… more time listening is required.

From Audiophillia (btw I used to have a HDP3 … it wasn’t as transparent as the HDP4 or the latest versions.)

Another interesting capability the DEQX provides is the ability to create a subsonic filter tailored to your system, the lack of which makes playback of any even slightly warped records problematic. With the HDP-4 it is easy to change the response curve creating a perfect sub-sonic filter without any negative effects on the sound. In my case, I set it to quickly drop off below 15Hz which proved to be ideal.

Next, still using vinyl, we compared the v2 directly to the amplifiers vs. the HDP-4, in by-pass mode, directly to the amplifiers. This produced some quite wonderful and unexpected results. The expectation was that the v2, would give the clearest, most transparent and musical presentation of the two. After all, how could a preamp that takes the music signal, converts it to digital and then back to analogue, match the sound quality of the pure analogue v2? Interestingly, it was almost impossible to determine which set-up we were listening to or to choose one over the other.

After many hours of listening, a few of us could hear, or thought they could hear, a slightly improved clarity through the HDP-4, others preferred the v2. That debate continues. Was it expectation that colored perception or were we actually hearing minute differences. All I can say, definitively, is that the DEQX HDP-4 showed itself to be a superb sounding preamp for both analogue and digital sources. I would place the HDP-4 in any system and save boatloads of cash by not needing a preamp and gain all those additional capabilities that the DEQX provides making it an incredible performer.

It always amazes me when people eschew DSP for bypass signal. I know I’m in the minority here, but I get such an incredible benefit from room correction (I also phase tune at crossover with the sub - a huge improvement) I can’t imagine being without it. The bass is boomy and out of control with modes galore without room correction. Imaging is diffuse. I know many of you are thinking “All you need is the right components and room setup and you don’t need room correction.” Maybe in a larger, perfectly rectangular room with high ceilings. But not in my media room which is smallish and somewhat eccentric in shape. DSP allows the details to really shine through and tighten my soundstage while taming and evening out the bass. The phase tuning at the crossover allows the bass to have such physical impact, it’s insane. Even at low volumes I can feel a thump in my chest. You just can’t do with with straight signal, IMO.

So if you think you hear a degradation in sound with room EQ, I would say you’re maybe doing it wrong. For those who think the problem is the digitizing and de-digitizing of the signal, try this experiment. Set it up so that your pre/pro is using DSP, but employ no room correction for frequency response (or maybe minimal). No correction for speaker distance. No bass EQ. And then play an analog source such as your TT. That way you would just take the analog signal and it would be converted to digital and back again, effectively allowing for you to hear an uncorrected signal that has been digitized and re-converted. Do you hear anything? Any change at all? I doubt you will. Maybe at that point you need to consider if you can allow your brain to hear a room corrected signal or if you need to see if there is a way you can better utilize the DSP tool. I will grant you, it’s not easy sometimes. I’ve messed with mine for countless hours to get it absolutely perfect to my ears. I’ve learned a lot in the process. And some are better than others, for sure. Anthem’s ARC is one of the best. DIRAC is excellent. But I submit that a well setup system with room correction, more often than not, will make a substantial improvement to your system. Discuss.

I don’t disagree about the potential for room correction. I’m just currently at a place with my system where I am good without it.

I have diy bass traps, and some panels, sound is very good. Over the years I have considered bi-amping but every crossover I researched lost some detail or transparency. And I do believe you guys who have tested or use modern digital crossovers.

The thing is my dream speakers uses a digital crossover, the Legacy Aeris, I have at times thought about going with the Vandersteen 5A as all corrections are done in analog. Actually I can’t afford either so it is part of the dream system.

I think if you have a pre-processor with surround sound, the room correction they offer just makes sense.

I have heard more bad room correction than good. The only systems that sounded better with correction were those where every effort was first made to fix the room with competent room treatment, careful speaker placement, etc. The room correction just added a bit of polish.

On the other hand, those systems which use room correction as the primary means of improving the sound typically fail miserably. The owners have always been ecstatic however. Of course, this is all that matters.

Elk +1. If the “before and after” EQ graphs show a radical change in the room response, you will have lost quite a bit for your gains. Either not enough has been done to fix the room and place the listening seat and speakers, or (often) one is trying to make it sound good in a large area, as with home theater.

It’s often a needed or wanted tradeoff if it’s not a one-seat setup. You can only tame room modes in very specific areas without radical changes of placement or signal. Many famous manufacturers recommend sub placements that themselves either accentuate or cancel modes. For example, the practice of placing a sub in the middle of the front and rear walls will flatten out the overall room modes. But to my ears it is like wearing noise-cancelling headphones, creating strange pressures on my eardrums unrelated to the music.

Of course if you’re in a one-seat room tuned for that spot, sitting or standing anywhere else will often be unlistenable.

Exactly. :slight_smile:

Totally concur guys. The first time I placed the speakers and subs where I thought they should be and did room correction, I was truly underwhelmed. Then I realized how important it was going to be to optimize things before doing my DSP/correction. One sub was a mode nightmare so I went with dual subs. I tried at least 6 different sub configurations with the dual setup before I settled on the placement I did. I did the “sub crawl” too and looker pretty silly when my wife came in and wondered if I had finally lost my marbles! (I had a little, to be honest) I then moved my speakers several times as well, front to back, side to side, a little toe in, a lot toe in. The after, non-corrected, results were far better than the corrected setup without proper placement. THEN, I ran my correction and tightened things up even further. It was a night and day difference from where I started. That’s not to say it couldn’t be improved upon further - Paul is more than welcome to come to Richmond to help me if he chooses! Or Elk or Beef! You’re all welcome. I’ll provide the beverages and bulldogs. beer_gif So, yes, proper placement and room setup is much more important than room correction/DSP. To me, it’s the icing on the cake, though!

I’m sure your system is in the category where digital correction is truly improves the sound. Well done! It is an incredible amount of work.