Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link III

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TheChairGuy

Part 1 - The Search

Finally, I get on this one!  Been sitting on my noggin' for toooooo long.

Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio is more of a circuit re-designer, than a modder, per se.  He does a lot more than parts swapping for better, higher resolution parts, he actually traces signal origins, simplifies and improves in various ways.  He designed microprocessors for Intel for the better part of 20 years and has several patents based on transmission line principles.  And of course, he makes and designs wire and cables.

Lucky for some of us, he loves music and Intel grinds people out while they still have some upper frequency hearing left.  He is a bona fide find in the audio business.

That all said, I've never been pro-modder material.  With engineering advancement, I believed that buying new or gently used equipment has been a better, more cost effective upgrade path than modding. Except for some simple (for him) BlackGate swaps in my Superhon pre by Stan Warren three years ago, I largely avoided modders and happily plowed along in my audio education.

That was, until I happened into Steve's room at CES 2004.  With all modded equipment in there, at a cost of about $20,000 total, it sounded terrific.  I had planned on a 5 minute meet and greet, I (over?) stayed by 85 minutes. Seamless, grainless, bouyant, sweet music came out of that room.  I knew either my preconceptions of modders was wrong or Steve is doing something  particularly right.

Need to run right now, will finish up later...sorry to keep a couple of you in suspense  :wink:
« Last Edit: 27 Dec 2006, 04:20 am by TheChairGuy »

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #1 on: 16 Jun 2004, 12:32 am »
Part 2 - The Set-up

I should add unrestricted and grit free music from the Empirical Audio room, too.

Looking over Steve's gear, I had only one thing in common with his system, the Sony DVP-S7700 as a transport.  That really got me; I had owned the Sony for 2 years at that point, and spinning tunes for the MSB Gold Link III, and had always found the combo underwhelming.  I knew then and there, a big part of my dissatisfaction with music was the transport.

How'd I know? Simple deduction. My old Rotel RCD-965BX was more enjoyable as a transport with the MSB at either 96 or 132K.  The fancy Sony I got (from Kana813 here on AC via Audiogon) had a special modified 192K output and RJ-45 digital outs that MSB uses.  Seems the more jitter and garbage your transport produces, the worse higher upsampling sounds.  With a higher jitter transport, unless you have a jitter reducing clock within the DAC, you are really better NOT upsampling or upsampling modestly to 96K.  I am sure there may be exceptions to this observation, I am not an engineer nor technically oriented, but by and large this seems correct.  :idea:

 I must say I was swayed by a few stellar posts here on Critic's Circle by Marbles and others as to the enormous improvement Steve's 'TurboMod' was to this lowly transport.  It was in his room, and time afterward, that I thought of my next upgrade path.  $830.00 for the TurboMod, with Jensen 4-pole caps.

So, 4 months later, and lots of alternative thoughts about upgrading passed, and I emailed Steve.  ChairGuy's seasonal income kinda' sucks October thru March or so, so April was the first I could think 'substantial' upgrade without unduly denting the budget.

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #2 on: 16 Jun 2004, 01:03 am »
Part 3 - Decision Made

My first thing that shocked me was, tho my initial email was sent at 11AM, Steve's answer was at 1:25AM.  This is a busy, music loving audio sicko - my kinda' guy.

His e-mail response wasn't a trite 'Give me a call' kinda' thing, it was a well thought thru explanation of what he does, what he suggested done, where to apply dollars for best effect...and that he was pumped to do another one of his fave transports, and take his first crack at MSB gear :!:

Wow - 1:00 AM, mind you.  Now, I expect a command of technical issues from any of the modders you pay good money to; but good, really good and timely feedback you shouldn't, and can't expect.  I have found the technical mind is sometimes at odds with customer service.  I have no command of technical issues, I don't and don't want to learn to solder, but I follow-up and feed my accounts timely and impressively exact information before they need it.  I can sell the proverbial eskimo some ice in Winter, but will be among the least likely to ever build his own pair of speakers from scratch.

Know what I mean, most folks are of two different heads?  Makes for a world where everybody's skills can be essential to making a better society.

Steve, he's some kind of Teutonic freak of nature; great command of technical issues and timely, effective feedback.  Frankly, as good as his resume reads, I am still in awe of this.  :thumb:

Back and forth 5 more times, and I decide to have both my Sony transport and MSB Link III and MSB Power Base done.  I have always found $1 spent at the source, is better than $2 spent downline..so I splurged.  

As mentioned, my transport is a kinda' weird set-up.  It is a stock Sony, except it was modded by MSB with 192K upsampling and proprietery RJ-45 digital out that is connected via a RJ-45 CAT-5 wire and terminated in an XLR connector to my DAC.  The DAC accepts the upsampled signal and reverts to analog.  In this set-up, because the upsampling is done in the transport, my TurboMod proved to be remarkable. It was probably more beneficial to the final result than others that have had both transport and upsampling DAC done by Steve.

This meant Steve had to work a little harder around the upsampler/transport.  I decided, while he was noodling around in there,  to upgrade my headphone outs.  I got a youngun' now in the house, headphone listening seems to be on the horizon.  All this probably added some to the Sony mod - closer to $1000.00 total for all this.

Because of the 'weird' connection to the DAC, and that Steve matches the digital output to your digital cable, I had to send the DAC in to.  Unless you have an MSB with 192K Network built in, you can't hook my transport up to just any DAC.  So, while I was sending my DAC 600 miles north to Oregon, I decided to have it and my Power Base (outboard power supply) done, too.

I should note that wy gear was already optimized by the purchase of a Revelation Audio Labs 'umbilical' power cord and a one-off digital cable that Brad built for me.  Super guy, and great stuff, that Brad makes in FL. BTW.

Total cost, $1800.00 for the whole shebang.

You can see my system 'link' below.

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #3 on: 16 Jun 2004, 01:34 am »
Results/Post Script

I'm doing this in parts because I fall hopelessly dead asleep with long reviews, this way you can choose to read what you want (or not), or come back to a section to read over.

Also, the last time I checked, Rob Babcock had 34% of all the posts on AudioCircle, and I feel it's my personal mission to restrain him to less than 1/3 total.  :lol:

Exactly nine days after my gear reaches Steve, I get it back.  In the 5 business days that he had it, he sent another 8 emails about progress, thoughts, and audible observations.  The vast majority of them unsolicited.  I'm still in awe - he didn't have to do that, but man, did I appreciate it.  I mean, it's $1800.00, not pennies....whether his mods were BETTER than any other modders almost didn't matter at this point. I was giving my hard earned coin to a real, consummate businessperson with great technical prowess. I am still so impressed; still so totally jazzed about this.

I have had my MSB for 3 years, and the Sony for 2 at this point. My system is on all day, in my home office where I am not traveling, 6 feet from my right ear. I know this system.  I know when it sucks and when it kinda' sounds okay.  It never sounds great.

Well, it sure sounds friggin' good now.  It's utterly grainless with that liquid kinda' relaxing sound that good analog has.  It seems to have every strength of what a digital source brings to the party, while injecting the kind of relaxing posture that a great turntable set-up has in spades.

Classical music has depth and width and all the instruments sound like I have heard at countless live events.

It has 'tendon & ligament-crushing' bass; my amp is a lightweight, so I need to upgrade it to 'bone-crushing' soon; as Steve termed it.

As it turned out, Steve was mightly impressed with the MSB; the simple circuitry lends itself well to modding. It got the 'TurboMod' tag and he judged it the equal of his reference Perp Tech 3a, but with better bass.  Heady stuff, indeed.

MSB-a-philes, you now have an experienced modder at your disposal.  I think 'LonewolfNY' is already using these services. Turned out the Power Base wasn't in need of an upgreade, so stellar was the fullness of the resultant music.

The star mod was again the Sony.  He simply works magic on this once-average transport. Grainless, liquid 0's and 1's are seamlessly converted to beautiful analog sound at my speaker terminals.  The headphone sounds great, albeit, I am hardly testing it's prowess with a Grado SR-60.  Right now, that is....teeheehee.  :wink:

Wanna' hear a downside (any pessimists out there) :?:  It's that you no longer can plug in junk into the system. It is too revealing of that now.  I have always skimped on amplification; I never could get a good handle on it's cost effectivelness in the audio chain.

Now, with a front end on anabolic steroids, it is clear as day that the lowly $160.00 AudioSource Amp3 I picked up on Audiogon 6 months ago, met it's match.  Small ensemble music is beautiful, but the heavier stuff (whether orchestral, or 'Train') poops out most umpleasantly; really spoiling the experience.

I've got an Exodus 2.2se on order from DIYCable right now ready to remedy that situation.

In short (ha), I couldn't be happier.  I've got about $4200 sunk into my front end...pretty sad that I got $160 sunk into the amp!  My $800 Vandersteen 1c will likley get the upgrade boot at some point, too, but for now and in the immediate future it shall remain.

Folks, you are in good hands with Steve Nugent at Empirical Audio.  I know not whether he is a good value vis-a-vis other modders out there, but he gives you a good, fair shake and keeps you abreast of his every move along the way.  As a former skeptic, I can tell you that modding is a definite option in your road to audio nirvana.

Mr. Ebert says  :thumb:

& Mr. Roeper agrees  :thumb:

Rob Babcock

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Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #4 on: 16 Jun 2004, 02:14 am »
No way!  This post oughtta put me back to 34%!  :lol:

I'm trying to understand- did you have the unit modded with the upsampler card installed or have it removed?

To be fair, though, it's 3.3, not 33!  :wink:

lonewolfny42

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Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #5 on: 16 Jun 2004, 04:10 am »
Nice review ChairGuy !! Glad your happy with the mods.Yes, Steve has my 7700 and my ECD-1, they arrived today in OR, all in one piece :lol:.
    I also have a stock MSB Data Link III with P1000 Power Base. Not sure what I'll do with it, I've had it for a year , rarely used , along with a Mensa Dio and a stock Dio. [/list:u]
      Since its prime time for chairs, sell a few extra's and take care of the weak links in your system.[/list:u]
        Have fun !! :dance: [/list:u]

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #6 on: 16 Jun 2004, 04:13 am »
Hey Rob,

The Sony has the upsampler (hard wired in, it seems, not a card) in it when modded...it came that way by way of Kana813 - from whom I bought the modded unit. It is connected to a MSB RJ-45 type connection for the digital outs.  Steve used a lot of perfect crystal silver wire in there.

He paid $595.00 for that mod from MSB.

MSB now has an upsampling card that the DIY'er can do (I think) in the Gold Link III DAC.  It think it's a nifty $100.00 more at $695.00.

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #7 on: 16 Jun 2004, 04:15 am »
Man Wolfy,

You are gonna' be lovin' the tunes soon....ya' THINK you got it good now :!:

woo-hoo  :guitar:

lonewolfny42

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Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #8 on: 16 Jun 2004, 04:21 am »
Quote from: TheChairGuy
Man Wolfy,

You are gonna' be lovin' the tunes soon....ya' THINK you got it good now :!:

woo-hoo  :guitar:
Hope so !! :)
    I was just thinking :? , maybe you should head south in the winter to pick up the chair crowd there , and some extra $$$$$$ ! 8) [/list:u]

audioengr

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #9 on: 16 Jun 2004, 04:59 am »
Chris - I just did some listening sessions with the Turbomod P-3A versus the ECD-1.  I used a better power cord to give it the best advantage.

The ECD-1 sounds extremely good at first blush, good focus, midrange and bass dynamics.  At first I though it was nearly identical to the P-3A.  However, after direct comparison with the P-3A in my reference system, it is obvious that it is lacking in high-frequency dynamics.  The cymbols are recessed and very laid-back.  Same with rim-shots.  These should be crisp and live sounding but they are not.  The attack of percussion is just not realistic.  Cymbols do not have the sheen and the slow decay that they should.  They just dissappear quickly.  

The positive is that the 192 upsampling and the discrete output stages makes the midrange very smooth.  I think some minor changes should get the high-frequency dynamics to match the P-3A.  

I can imagine that in some systems, particularly tube power amps, that the high-frequency dynamics of the P-3A might be masked by the tube roll-off or lack of amp dynamics at the high-frequencies, making the two DACs sound identical.

lonewolfny42

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« Reply #10 on: 16 Jun 2004, 05:09 am »
Thanks Steve, work some magic ! I use a SS amp and a Tube preamp. Question, about the 7700, you had the stock cord on your demo machine. Would it matter if that was changed...ever experiment with doing that ? Thanks !! :)

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #11 on: 16 Jun 2004, 05:23 am »
Quote from: lonewolfny42
Thanks Steve, work some magic ! I use a SS amp and a Tube preamp. Question, about the 7700, you had the stock cord on your demo machine. Would it matter if that was changed...ever experiment with doing that ? Thanks !! :)


hehe - I grilled him a few times on that one, too; I'll let Steve handle the answers.

And, FL, HI and AZ are our best markets in the Winter, and FL may be the best overall market we have year-round due to extremely long shoreline in that state.

The real 'off' season money is in selling Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Brazil (if you can, protectionist trade barriers make it tough).  Christmas/New Years is celebrated on the beach...it's 70 degree F + during OUR winter.  

 :)

zybar

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #12 on: 16 Jun 2004, 11:56 am »
Chris,

When you get your goodies back, we need to get together.

I would like to hear the modified ECD-1 vs. my stock.  I have to say I did not hear the difference Steve described in my system when I had the Turbomod P3-A.  

Could also be useful to see how the Turbomod version of the S-7700 compares to my modified S-7700.  This will be extremely hlepful for me in deciding if I want to risk sending my S-7700 cross country again for the one last mod.

George

audioengr

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #13 on: 16 Jun 2004, 04:48 pm »
Chris - I have installed IEC's on the 7700 before.  They do not seem to make much difference, so I dont recommend it.

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #14 on: 16 Jun 2004, 04:58 pm »
Quote from: audioengr
Chris - I have installed IEC's on the 7700 before.  They do not seem to make much difference, so I dont recommend it.


That's what Steve advised me, too.  I put a Highwire PowerWrap on the captive cord (to 'tune' out RFI) after I got the mod back and didn't hear a difference at all with it on.

FYI.

lonewolfny42

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Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #15 on: 17 Jun 2004, 03:10 am »
George,
    Sure thing...listen to both and compare it in your system !! :thumb: [/list:u]
      ChairGuy and Steve,[/list:u]
        Sounds good to me , whatever works best....thanks !! 8) [/list:u]

audioengr

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #16 on: 17 Jun 2004, 03:51 pm »
Chris - one thing that I can still do is put a modded Superclock2 in the 7700.  This definitely helps.  I am comparing yours to mine with the Superclock2 head-to-head now.  This is $450 additional though, and I need to order one.

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #17 on: 17 Jun 2004, 05:09 pm »
Steve,

Was there a reason that you didn't recommend the SuperClock2 for my 7700?  If you did, I don't remember it.  

 :?:

audioengr

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #18 on: 17 Jun 2004, 06:39 pm »
John - I had not figured-out how to do it yet.  It was non-trivial, but I finally got it done on my reference unit.  If you want it, I can certainly do it for you for $450.

BTW - Chris and George - I will be posting my results on the ECD-1 on the EA forum - very interesting findings...

TheChairGuy

Empirical Audio Modded Sony DVP-S7700 & MSB Gold Link II
« Reply #19 on: 17 Jun 2004, 07:19 pm »
I'm in no rush right now Steve...I think amplification is much more of a glaring deficiency in the chain right now, tho sometime after rectifying that, I may give you a call to install the clock.

I decided to get DIYCable's new digital offering finally, the Exodus 2.2se, tough to beat (spec-wise, at least) for 1200 beans. I am awaiting it's arrival shortly.

I thought you had developed the SuperDuper Clock before my mod...I remember you posting something on AC a while before my mod, but I don't remember you mentioning the possibility of having it done via email.

Anyhowz......what does the mod do for the overall sound 'experience'?