When are capacitor/op amp 'upgrades' not bullshit?

Discussion in 'Advice Threads' started by nraymond, Dec 11, 2018.

  1. nraymond

    nraymond Rando

    Feb 1, 2018
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    For years now we've had folks online extolling the virtues of 'upgrading' caps and op amps in their devices, and some manufacturers like (Burson, Creative, etc.) even cater to the 'upgrade' crowd with DIP socketed op amps (which are pretty prominent in the SoundBlasterX AE-9 that was just announced for instance). Some people even go all out and just replace everything because of course more expensive parts mean better:


    And some people sell modded equipment too (I posted recently about someone selling a modified Creek OBH-11 on ebay with quite the claims about their improvements).

    Yes there can be value to replacing capacitors in the sense that they are rated for a certain operational temperature and eventually most capacitors wear out and need to be replaced, however unless a cap is faulty (such as the blight that happened a few years back when some Chinese capacitor makers used incomplete design formulas stolen from Japanese capacitor companies that resulted in premature failure), a well designed product should mean cap replacement is a late in operational life task to perform, not something up front... otherwise why wouldn't the manufacturer at least offer a 'higher grade' of the product with the better caps to start with (and charge a decent markup)? It doesn't stand to reason that so many manufacturers would intentionally cripple their products out of the gate with substandard parts intentionally (not saying there aren't some design ignorant manufacturers, but I think it's a true minority overall).

    Regarding opamps, NwAvGuy wrote about them back in the day, and what he wrote makes sense to me:


    ...A lot of people play around with 'op amp rolling' but they mostly lack the ability to measure the results. A lot of op amps get 'upgraded' to much more expensive parts usually with zero real world benefit. Worse, these usually faster parts can easily be unstable in a circuit designed for a much slower part. Some of the differences heard could be high frequency instability. But when someone 'upgrades' to an expensive op amp with high expectations many assume the different sound must be better sound...​

    What I'm wondering is, besides educating myself more in electrical engineering, are there any concise guides on whether any component 'upgrades' are worthwhile or not, and/or how to evaluate puported 'upgrades'? Or should I just assume 99% are bullshit and not waste my time even reading about them?

    I assume some of this stuff also falls into the 'hard to know' category because it involves in-depth knowledge about the design and layout of a complete board and it's components (and modern multilayer boards are not trivial to reverse engineer) and/or good blind testing of the upgrades (with at least some understanding of the impact on the overall design when changing out parts, i.e. not introducing unwanted long-term net negative effects on other components while achieving a short-term performance gain, or creating a performance gain that's only possible in a more narrow operational envelope without understanding those limitations). But I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts/advice on the topic, and if there are good books to go to on the subject, which ones I should start with.
  2. Pillars

    Pillars Embarrassment to Colorado crew

    Sep 26, 2016
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    Northern Colorado
    If it isn't broke don't fix it, that is my approach to cap replacement. When I received a broken product that was missing a cap I replaced quite a few, experimenting.. The results were interesting, but not something I'd recommend. Good products usually have decent caps already. Opamps however I've enjoyed rolling. On my old Asus Essence STX for instance the Burson's were the warmer/fuzzy opamps, while the LME's were my preference being more neutral and detail forward.

    The quote you've reference about different sound being a better sound applies to all of audio. It has taken me a while to accept that. We all have a preference. Opamps allow you a simple way to tweak the sound to something you might find more enjoyable, but it won't reinvent your setup.

    As far as touting upgrades, take sellers comments with a grain of salt. Think of it like cars.. You've just bought a Mustang that is far better than your previous car (that you've added rims to) in every way. While selling your old car you're definitely going to be talking up those rims and how awesome they make your old car look.
    Thad E Ginathom likes this.
  3. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

    Mar 20, 2016
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    Once, many years ago, I had a, really crappy, piece of gear and changing the opamps made it more bearable. Yes just bearable, as I was expecting, but it could never turn something bad into something good, because it didn't change it's true nature, but it was noticeable, even in blind test.

    Rolling can be fun but also for some it becomes a quest without an end and so it loses it's purpose. Not to mention those that invest less money on good gear and burn a ton in tubes. Opamping can be a, more or less, inexpensive way to get a little closer to what you enjoy.

    Sometimes just "different "sounds is perceived as an improvement since it may be more into what we actually appreciate the most.

    My tube rolling showed me that the wrong tube can turn something good into something almost bad (or unbearable) but never a bad amp into a good amp.
  4. Priidik

    Priidik Friend

    Friend BWC
    Sep 27, 2015
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    ''Upgrading'' opamp in some circuitry is like trying to pimp up a Civic with a smallblock. It's childish fun, but not a well performing car in the end.

    That is what makes audio electronics interesting. If all was known, then nobody would care.
    There are real performance reasons behind different caps and opamps, but the system these are put into will set the bar in the end.

    TL-DR is that it's waste of time and money to roll caps and opamps, unless it has become your obsession.
    Then seek medical help. And then buy/build better designed gear to begin with.

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