Without starting a new thread, I wanted to elaborate here with a follow up type review:
It has been a while since I had Bob at TDSS upgrade my Ref-9 V2s. TDSS has been doing the upgrades for a while now, but I guess they are really starting to catch on because I’ve had a number of guys contact me lately wanting to know my impressions. In fact, rather than repeatedly writing pretty much the same thing in emails and PM’s, I figured it would be easier to post this and then I can just send guys the link to it.
Just so everybody knows, back when I had the upgrade done TDSS only had one level available that, back then, they called their “Custom Upgrade.” Since then Bob discovered that further improvements were possible by replacing the power supplies too. As it stands the upgrade in my amps is what they are now calling their Level-1/D.R.R.T. Upgrade, so they don’t have either of the new power supplies installed that make up the TDSS Level-2 and Level-3 upgrades.
I can only imagine if they did! In fact, maybe after Christmas I’ll be able to allocate some funds and have those installed too, because from the reviews I’ve been reading on the TDSS website, guys that have gotten the Level-3 installed are just blown away.
The amps have had something like a year or so to break in, so from what I’ve been able to tell they are done as I haven’t really noticed any new changes for a while now. That said, the results are everything that I was expected, and more. Way more. As most of us, I have been tweaking my system for a number of years now by trying different cables, equipment feet, damping blocks, etc., and NOTHING I have done has ever made nearly as much improvement as Bob’s upgrades. So from that standpoint I can say that at least the Level-1 upgrade was worth every penny and then some, and a super good deal in comparison to all the other stuff I’ve tried over the years. I can’t speak to the Level-2 or Level-3 upgrades as I have never heard them, but knowing Bob he doesn’t get into doing “gray area” stuff, so I have little doubt that they would add even further improvements, just like everybody seems to be saying.
As far as the sound goes, it’s not exactly easy to put into words.
First of all, the stock sound or “signature” of the amps hasn’t changed a bit. The same highly detailed yet almost “tube-like” "liquid" quality that I have always loved about the Ref-9s is still there, but now seemingly more so. It’s as if I can hear those qualities even better now. Beyond that though these puppies have really opened up, as I am hearing fine details that I was never able to hear before. A lot of times I have found with other equipment changes that result in added detail, the sound can seem to become a bit too bright and maybe even a bit “edgy” and fatiguing, but not with the Level-1 TDSS upgrade. In fact, the sound is even smoother, more relaxed and more natural now. Brushed cymbals sound like real metal and gently fade away into a totally black background. And unlike before the upgrade, there is not a hint of hiss whatsoever, even with no music playing and listening within inches of the tweeter. As I said, the original tube-like signature in the midrange is still there, but even better than before. I hate to use the words “warm” or “harmonic bloom” because they seem to imply that harmonics are being added, which they are not. Not from what I can tell anyway. I guess you’d say the subtle harmonics that were always there in the first place come to the forefront more now, as the sound has taken on a richer texture. The effect is pretty cool too because my system is kind-a “luxurious” sounding now, as if it cost a LOT more than what I have invested in it.
It reminds me of going to a real upscale high-end shop and listening to a system that sounds so good you’re afraid to even ask how much it all costs. Oh, imaging and soundstage? Man, instrument localization is on a whole other level. You close your eyes and you can almost smell the alcohol and cigarette smoke of a nightclub. Diana Krall is right there in front of you, and you just want to reach out and grab her! Well, I guess that would be the case regardless, but you get my point. Then with the right recordings the sound emanates from well beyond my speakers now more than ever. Before the upgrade I always had really good imaging and soundstage, but now its like there was a hidden control for that somewhere and somebody came along and turned it up several notches for me. The stage is even deeper now with a better sense of height and everything is truly holographic. Well, unless the recording sucks. You can’t expect any piece of gear to fix that. Then finally there is the “speed” aspect. Percussive sounds have a “live-ness” now that really grabs your attention. Plucked acoustic guitars, piano, drums, etc. all sound more like they are real and palpable, as opposed to just being good recordings. I guess you’d say the same thing applies to the bass as well.
The upgrade hasn’t really allowed me to “turn up the wick” any more than before, because I can begin to hear the amps start to distort at the same preamp volume setting as before the upgrade. I suppose that is partly because I didn’t get the Level-3 upgrade with the new power supply, which in retrospect (had it been available at the time) would have been nice to have. So anyway, from a technical standpoint I don’t suppose there would be any measurable increase in power output, yet the bass authority and overall peak dynamics have improved in such a way as that you might be tempted to think so. THAT was a real surprise.
I could go on, but I don’t think I can really add that much more that would make it worth the trouble for you all to read. The only way to know is to hear for yourself anyway. In my opinion, the TDSS upgrade was the best system tweak I have ever experienced and was well worth the price. Oh, and Bob really knows his stuff and is a great guy to deal with too. I also like the fact that his upgrades don’t involve tampering with the actual amplifier circuitry either. He’ll tell you that he won’t touch it, so don’t even think of asking him to start replacing parts like capacitors and such. He’ll upgrade everything else outside the main amp circuits if you want, but that’s it. For me, that’s good to know because you don’t have to worry that the guy is gonna go in and start changing stuff, as if he thinks he knows more than the engineers that designed the amp. According to Bob, these new Switching amps are so complex that nobody should mess with them other than the engineers that designed them, and I agree. Knowing that I have confidence that he didn’t screw something up that will maybe cause the amp to blow up or whatever later on down the road. I’m not made of money and can’t afford to be buying new amps whenever I feel like it, so now after the upgrade I expect that I’ll have these puppies for a good long time to come. That’s good because now with the way everything is sounding I have absolutely no desire to keep shopping for a better amp. Although, I have to admit that I am REAL curious to know what the Level-3 upgrade would do?
Oh well, maybe after the first of the year at tax time!!! I hope this helps anybody that’s thinking about taking the plunge. I don’t think you’ll be sorry if you do. I know I’m not, and lately there seems to be more and more guys out there that agree.