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SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS (Read 27142 times)
lightmaster
Ex Member



SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
10/27/05 at 19:59:25
 
SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS

Dear friends
I know that we are all interested in squeezing the very last ounce of pleasure out of our dear amps. And I also know that many of you have already gone through all kinds of attempts to reach audio nirvana. I also know that these mods have been discussed ad nauseam in many threads through  the years. BUT the truth is that these info are scattered in so many threads (and heads), and blended in each thread among so many  other side comments that it really gets impossible to figure these options out clearly (well at least for me it was so)

So I was wondering would you be willing in putting all the most successful (you know the “up-grades” that have reached some community consensus), in one single thread. And give them a grade from 1 to 10 in terms of how significant the improvement was (and the drawbacks if there are were any)

Might be this will be helpful to all the ones of us that are playing with the idea of getting their beloved amp modded for that last ounce of pleasure.

I would ask only two things of you, if you agree with me.

1. Stick to the SE84C and SE84CS, no other amps, options comparisons, just anything relating to these two amps and their components (open new threads for those may be???).

2. Give YOUR  direct personal impressions, if you haven’t done it but just saw it somewhere  please just link to the thread where you gathered the info with a brief title/description.

In this way, may be, we will be able to have one clear thread with all the different options spelled out for us freshers and not to think about.

Anything you tried goes, speaker and RCA posts, volum pots, resistors, capacitors, etc etc but NOT TUBES ROLLING.

Well thxs a lot and let’s se if we are interested in this.

I don’t have any experience with mods yet so I’ll start with  links (so i will not grade them) to two mods that might be interesting one it’s easy the other very promising, but not that easy (for me at least;):



Grid choke on Se84:
http://www.decware.com/cgi-bin/yabb/YaBB.cgi?board=zen;action=display;num=111520...



Select EX Cathode Resistor Bypass Cap Surgery (or something to deal with hum)
Here http://www.geraldcurtis.com/selectex_mod.htm and here http://www.decware.com/cgi-bin/yabb/YaBB.cgi?board=zen;action=display;num=110572...



Francesco
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selmerdave
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #1 - 10/28/05 at 02:13:40
 
Okay, here's mine.

C to CS conversion around a 4.  Subtle difference but when you're looking to improve sound even small differences are satisfying.

Coupling cap upgrade around an 8.  Quite noticeable difference, in my case going from the stock "C" Tracons to Jensen copper foil PIO.

Cathode bypass cap upgrade around a 1.  Replaced the Xicon with a Black Gate.  Maybe there's a difference but I would classify it as "subtle at best".

Cathode resistor change 0.  I've tried a couple different ones, all of the same value, and couldn't say I hear a difference from the stock one.  Presently it's a Mills 12W.

PS Capacitor bypass a 0.  I much prefer the signature of the Zen with the 40's unbypassed, and the difference is considerable.  I still have the 20's bypassed, I will admit, and didn't find the difference detrimental.

Volume pot bypass a 2.  A very small difference, IMO outweighed by the advantages of having a quality volume pot in the chain.

EX upgrade, a 10.  Of course, I stood to benefit from it with 16-ohm speakers.  I certainly could happily live with the stock OPT's again, the sound was really good.  But the difference from the EX OPT's was significant and obvious, and it made a (not subtle) improvement in the sound.

Dave
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Corey
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #2 - 10/28/05 at 04:10:27
 
Here's mine:

Send the amp to Eddie Vaughn.

Corey
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MAC -SteveH
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #3 - 10/28/05 at 04:14:33
 
I AGREE WITH COREY.

My amp had the magic wand of Eddie waved over it - quite extensively!

WHOOOHAAAAA!
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veryoldcat
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #4 - 10/28/05 at 05:12:30
 
[quote author=selmerdave  link=1130443165/0#1 date=1130462020]
Volume pot bypass a 2.  A very small difference, IMO outweighed by the advantages of having a quality volume pot in the chain.
[/quote]

Although I haven't messed with the passive parts as Dave has, I second the idea of keeping the alps volume pot.

I've tried the purist "straight in" jacks on my CS many times, and hear a noticeable difference compared to the inputs with volume control. Although there seems to be a gain in transparence with the purist jacks, the se84cs sounds best in my system through the volume controlled inputs, with the volume pot backed off to around 80% or so.  Then, any extra needed gain is made up with a preamp, upstream.

Why, I'm not sure, but it's more even and solid sounding all the way around with the input slightly padded.

Sometime I might do a diy a zen so I don't feel so bad about chopping up the nice Decware assembly work.

Karl
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StingRay
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #5 - 10/28/05 at 23:08:10
 
Quote:
Here's mine:

Send the amp to Eddie Vaughn.

Corey


Take a nearly perfect amp and make it just a little better.  That's how it's done!
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Chris K
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #6 - 10/28/05 at 23:29:37
 
I can vouch for my EV modded "C".
Though I can say that depending on speakers and source the "C" as it is now may need taming in the bass which I really never thought could be possible with the "little" Zen. Less bass? I also have Jensen caps but I'm sweet for a set of the Mundorf SilverSupreme's for coupling caps in all my amps. Seeing how dave rated that particular tweak, I'd say coupling caps are pretty important. I know the Jensens sound great. I like "warts and all" detail but like a neutral and transparent sound. Too much to ask?
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lightmaster
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #7 - 10/29/05 at 01:32:08
 
Dear all
i know that Eddie is the "ultimate mod", if anything for the incredibly good vibes and karma that anything he might touch will receive, but we should stick to the ACTUAL MODS you had direct experience with.
so might be i have some specific questions to elicit your responses

1 did anyone try to substitute the two atoms caps with black gate 47+47uf 500v? they are said to be spectacular, is it true?

2 what about the volume pot, is there an upgrade for that and is it worth the money?

3 coupling caps, it seems mundorf silver gold are the rage, any one tried them in a se84c, the 3.3uf are rather big do they fit in the small se84?

4 and what about RCA plugs, power switch, speakers posts? what about an all silver Audio Note rca and speaker posts make over?  :D

anyone tried any of the above

f
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lightmaster
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #8 - 10/29/05 at 01:54:36
 
5 ohhh what about the silver fuse? if it's worth paying for same good power cable (and it is! i have tried it diy cheap and with good results) might be the fuse has an influence too?????


as for the power cord read this:
http://www.tnt-audio.com/clinica/ttse.html

and this

http://www.tnt-audio.com/clinica/diycables.html

f
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selmerdave
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #9 - 10/29/05 at 04:51:56
 
Francesco, the 3.3 uf caps are not coupling caps, they are part of the power supply filtering for the input tube.  Based on my experience with the main PS caps I could easily believe that changing these would make a difference, but I'm not sure it's the best bang for the buck.  The coupling caps are the .1 uf caps going between the input and power tubes.  I would imagine that some of the boutique caps might be rather large even in a .1 uf/600V value, and space is certainly an issue with these amps, but it's not the same as dealing with a 3.3 uf foil cap.

Dave
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Corey
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #10 - 10/29/05 at 05:15:53
 
Lightbulb,


I have no idea what your goals are for your mods nor your associated gear, room, budget etc.

I have heard it said that the satisfaction of building and/or modding ones own amp adds to the enjoyment later on etc. Personally I just don't buy that, it either sounds great(not good) or it doesn't. Quite frankly, if you are in the realm of hi-fi meaning if you actually have some efficient, resolving speakers then you know the fine balance required in components and speed when dealing with this level of fidelity.

I would say that compiling a list of mods then picking and choosing or doing all of them recommended is a recipe for an incoherent disaster. The variables involved in a simple tube amp are huge. Sure, anyone can build a paint peeler but in the end the analytical novelty gets boring, very quickly.

I have read over the past 4 years on these forums about this tweak or that, the veil lifting, the seperation etc. etc. and every change is lauded as for the better. Quite frankly, I suspect many are simply stroking their ego's in bragging to others that they can sling some solder.

In the end, it is all about musicality and pulling you in. If that is your goal then ask yourself if you really think you can pull this off? Do you even know what to listen for in attempting this great feat? Are you ready to put in the many, many, many hours required to get it right?

Forgive me for hi-jacking your thread, just trying to save you some wasted time and point you in the right direction.

Corey

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selmerdave
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #11 - 10/29/05 at 05:53:47
 
I don't know Corey, I disagree.  Yes I'm sure the sonic results I get with my modding are not as spectacular as those done by pros, nor do I think my mods are an improvement on Steve's original, but I enjoy trying things and suiting the amp to my taste.  I do not agree that there is such a thing as "it either sounds great or it doesn't", there is a *very* wide range of opinion involved in audio evidenced on a daily basis here.  If anything the experience of opening up my amp (and others) and going for it helps me realize that a tube amp is not so complicated, and while the variables are nearly endless and no doubt a good design requires considerable knowledge of them, in the end a cap is a cap and resistor is a resistor.  We all know that there are many ways to get good sound just as there are many manufacturers making many amps, not to mention several amps in the Decware line.  If there were only one "good" amp the others would be redundant.  By that I am sure that there are many variations on the basic Zen amp circuit that yield slightly different results, and modding allows us to explore that.  If we just wanted a good design we would have stuck with the stock amp.

Also, considering all that is involved in making a successful solder joint, I'm not sure how someone could brag about it as it is hardly a feat.  Some may like to do it, others may not, but bragging?

Dave
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lightmaster
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #12 - 10/29/05 at 11:14:23
 
Dear Corey

This thread had to be only about mods and the subjective perceptions of the ones that did try some mods, but that’s the way it goes, so I have to explain why I am interested in modding in general and the amp specifically, so let me start saying that

I disagree with you on some important points
Modding your amps cdp etc etc is indeed a long and at times risky process, but is absolutely worth it if the process is the reward along with the music reproduction improving along. Since I embarked in this adventure, mostly thanks to my first significant purchase, my beloved SE84C, I have gone trough a huge list of listening experiences. The have cost me money and time. But I can tell you a fraction of the money that the shops were asking me for this or that magic component, and a lot fun in the process. The improvement of my system has been IMMENSE since the beginning. And the amazing thing is that the key components have remained the same. My amp the SE84C and my speakers the Audio Note AZ Three that are simply a spectacular combination of cheap and amazingly well engineered components .

Following suggestions from steve and others about cabinet treatment, reading and (listening in shops to systems far far away from my reach) understanding literature on the subject of wire design and material, and NOT BUYING the snake oil products, idea, but just trying to understand the logic and physics of this and that I have gone a LONG way towards my audio nirvana.

BASIC lesson learned, your system, your hears, your music scope. Mixing component is like cooking someone said. And I do strongly agree. It’s all in the balance of the ingredients. I have been listening, changing, and re-listening and getting a taste for each single component, mostly thanks to two very well balanced elements, my amp and my speakers. I trusted that if something sounded “wrong” to me must have been because of the wrong combination of components, basically I trusted the amp to be the AMAZING product that it is, and the speakers to be the amazing reproducers that they are. I went full circle to also realise that same “common knowledge” was many times the answer.

ALL I use know is VALVO and Siemens Cca, Mullards el84, and Mullard rectifiers. Best combination for me period. I was told I did not believe it, I know now after may be 20 different types of valves in MY system, some do it nicely, but NOT for my anymore.

Cables NOTHING else but “single core silver cables” from the power cord to the interconnects etc etc, same cables throughout the system, just different gouge according to position. Tried them all …well many or enough to understand what I liked and what not (and learned a lot… bottom line most cable makers are steeling your hard earned money!, you can do it for a fraction of what they ask), once you have found some good silver cable of the reel, I did,  if they sound bad, harsh, thin, something is wrong with your source, power (yes mains power makes a huge difference) or somewhere else. (certainly not your amp Smiley and definitely not my speakers because I heard them in some amazingly expensive Audio Note combos and the harsh sound of the tweeter simply wasn’t there, so it had to be somewhere else and I bought a tubed DAC .

I worked to the overall MACRO level of the system (and I would suggest to do that first always). I have now reached a balance where I know that the next level of improvement is in the MICRO level, namely components.

The difference in component does make a difference in a well-engineered product. Look at this:
http://www.audionote.co.uk/dacs/dac_index.htm
the difference within each type is only in the components, the design is good in the first place, then they improve the components. Truth is if you know what you are doing you’ll save yourself a lot of money. The drivers used in my speakers for example are exactly the same used in the TEN time more expensive models. Audio note charges a fortune for changing the cables inside, and the cabinet to a better material. Or this generic cap to a copper PIO that you can get for a fraction of the price. You want get their perfection, but for a fraction of the price certainly the 80% of that improvement.

SO Bottom line. STEVE has produced a superstar in the audio world, and at a reasonable price. But to keep that price he has developed a recipe with ingredients with the best price performance ration, I guess. Changing things, might spoil the balance, but changing things knowing what to change and with what can improve things significantly  … and there are proves of that (think of the ex mod for example to adapt to speakers impedence). Now changing this or that again is just a matter of system balance and taste, and i would not get there before having balanced the all system, but once you have done it, changing specific ingredients might be fun and worth the effort if you are willing to experiment.

To know what a community has already done with one amp and with what subjective results will certainly help to decide what to experiment with, at least for the ones that are interested in doing it for whatever reason.

And just that you know, the AMP will be certainly the last thing I will change, it still lets me ear a lot of the weaknesses of my system and only once they are gone I will decide if to move to the amp.

f
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lightmaster
Ex Member



Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #13 - 10/29/05 at 11:30:49
 
dear Dave  
thxs a lot for correcting me, you are indeed right about the caps and the values. i guess for me this thread is already working, and with a very clear contribution from you

thxs a lot

f
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brettjm
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Re: SE84C/S ULTIMATE UPGRADE CONSENSUS
Reply #14 - 10/29/05 at 17:14:07
 
Lightmaster,

Wow good posting. I agree; very well said. I can see you're putting in work to make something out of this thread, and the least I can do is help by describing ONE of the many mods I've done. Of the multitude of possible mods, this one is very important. It can make or break the amp, as it is the first thing the signal sees. And no matter how good the components are down stream, it will be tainted by it. It's the volume pot. Also consider that it is only component the signal sees that has moving parts.

Now first I want to say that the stock ALPS pot is a wonder of value, and it simply wouldn't be sensible for Steve to put some expensive pot in his amps. Having said that, as good as the ALPS is it does have a couple shortcomings. Well, what more can be expected of a 3 dollar pot Smiley

I give due credit to EZ_Angus for pointing out the PEC carbon pot in the thread below. It's a milspec pot made for the Canadian military.http://www.decware.com/cgi-bin/yabb/YaBB.cgi?board=Tubes;action=display;num=1110...



This was quoted on the diyAudio forum. Not sure who said it. Probley diyhifisupply.com

Quote:
Instead of cheap silk screened resistive elements, they use a hot molded carbon element, the same hot molded process used for making carbon comp fixed resistors.

Instead of using silk screened conductor paths with the terminals riveted to them (because you can't solder to the silver-loaded epoxy), they use solid one-piece terminals.

Instead of using spring metal for the wiper conductor, they use a solid molded slug of carbon. It fits into a molded piece of plastic which is attached to a spring metal disc to provide the contact pressure.


If you've seen the majority of audiophile potentiometers out there, you've probley given some thought as to how it would be possible to fit them into the Zen's chassis. Well, the PEC pot is as big as any. About an inch every way. And I wanted to use the stock location. The thought of punching a hole into the front of the chassis doesn't appeal to me.

If you've seen the inside of the Zen and paid attention to the size of the ALPS pot, you already know that it just barely fits between the back wall and the speaker binding post. And the PEC is twice as thick, and much fatter round.

I went ahead and ordered it. Figured I'd work out the details later. Well, when it arrived I realized the threads where a size thicker than the stock ALPS. The though of widening the stock hole went though my mind.

I wouldn't know that it was possible until I had the stock pot and binding post removed. Right away I found out that Steve had made accommodation for a different pot by punching a larger than necessary hole for the ALP. The PEC just slid right in.

Now, to deal with the binding post. Here's what I did.



I loctited the rear bolt to hold in the post, and ground it down to a minimal thickness. Just enough to make clearance. I then ground a dimple for the secondary wire to be soldered in. This maintains clearance, and holds solder nicely. Also necessary was cutting the plastic grey washer in half. Yea, the binding post is only being held in by one bolt now. But from the top you really can't tell.



Here it is completely installed. Don't forget to insulate the rear binding post from the outer can of the pot. This pic was before I took a can of pressured air to it, so don't mind the metal flakes. I used the same cotton insulated solid core silver throughout. I've used the same stuff for interconnects and for the internal wiring of my DAC. Great stuff.

The first thing I noticed about it, before listening, was just how stiff the pot is. I still need to buy a 12mm OD volume knob for it to make things easier. It's just too hard to turn with the bare hand. While this may seem inconvenient, it tells me that this thing has excellent contact.

So how does it sound? It's an improvement across the board. In two words 'more refined'. It sounds much more velvety and relaxed yet resolves more detail. It has been said to be more dynamic. And I agree with this. What I've noticed is that at louder levels the amp seems to tolerate quick crescendos and peaky peaks without slipping. Before I would've been tempted to turn the volume down a bit.

But most appreciated is the way this pot handles music at lower levels. It retains a nice balance at all but the lowest volume setting (barely audible).

One thing I noticed with the old pot, was that it had a sweet spot. I even marked it with a marker, so that I could find it quickly. Very often I would adjust the volume by ear until it sounded it's best and later find that I had it right on the mark. I read elsewhere that there can be inconsistencies in the plastic carbon elements which cause anomalies such as this.

The PEC sounds great at any setting which has been most welcome considering every recording has a different level.

To put it another way, I now have no ambition to build or buy a pre amplifier.

I hope this satisfies, at least in part. Now lets get this ball rolling!

-Brett
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