Monthly Archives: March 2017

All by myself

In my youth just about everyone I knew wanted a nice stereo system. It was a must-have. It was imperative to both your social life and your love life. I had a nice system long before I acquired some decent furniture for my apartment. The madness began when my friend Mike decided to upgrade his system and offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. I bought his old system lock, stock, and barrel and I’ve never been the same. Listening to music was a social activity back then and on a regular basis my group of friends would gather to have a listen to the latest album one of us acquired. Good times.

Outside of the audiophile community few seem to care about owning a stereo system. Now, it’s all about headphones. On occasion someone will mention Sonos or the latest soundbar, but it’s rare. The vast majority of folks I know happily use earbuds, bluetooth headphones, or Beats. It’s just so .. isolated. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing at all wrong with headphones and, while I’m a loudspeaker guy, I have several and use them when needed.

My head gear

Within the audiophile community Head-Fi is the preeminent site for all things headphone. There is a wealth of information to be found on the site and many friendly members. Highly recommended.

 

Wired

Suffice it to say wire is contentious and divisive in much of audiophilia. Visit one of the many online audio forums and you’ll quickly find lengthy debate (i.e., arguments) on the subject. Opinions abound. Cables are still a necessity in our growing wireless world and we need them to be neutral and transparent. The big question is “Are there audible differences?”. Over the years I’ve purchased many cables (probably too many) hoping to eke out a little more. Always a little more.

Children and dogs

Maybe my ears aren’t golden enough. Or, my system isn’t resolving enough. While I realize there can be audible differences, often these differences are very subtle at best. USB cables, which I no longer use in my main system, are a good example. I’ve compared a $250 dB Audio Labs cable to a $130 AudioQuest Carbon, a $25 Belkin Gold and a $1.50 Blue Jeans Cable and in all honesty, I hear no difference. Nada. The 0’s and 1’s sound exactly the same! Apparently, each of these cables were properly built and do their job well. I’ve had a similar experience with properly built and spec’d RCA, BNC, and loudspeaker cables as well. Toslink is another story entirely.

Glass or plastic

Toslink optical is spec’d to max out at 24/96 but can easily pass a 24/192 signal using glass fiber. I like glass just for this reason. Can’t say I’ve heard a significant difference between any of the optical cables I have in my collection but if I had to choose based solely on sound quality, the Lifatec Silflex would take top honors. Lifatec produces some very nice quality glass cables and I use one between my streamer and re-clocker.

Bad rap

There are many in audiophilia who dismiss optical out-of-hand siting supposed high amounts of jitter horribly impacting the sound. Bullshit. Today’s DACs, with their specs in the pico and femto ranges, do a great job obliterating jitter. Of course if you’re still worried about the audibility of this increased jitter there are re-clockers like my iFi SPIDF iPurifer and Wyred 4 Sound’s Remedy Reclocker just for that purpose.  Apparently, I’m still worried.

One rather underrated advantage of an optical connection is the inherent electrical/galvanic isolation it provides. When using this connection method in my system the sound is dynamic, natural, and involving. I like it. Of course, at this level of nervosa each and every connection sounds pretty good.

 

 

Discovering jazz

A number of years ago I found myself rather frustrated with this genre. I would hear a song I liked and promptly purchase the album, only to be disappointed yet again. (We’ve all done that, no?) The problem wasn’t the music per se, but my own lack of understanding. In all honesty, I had no idea what my taste was and I wasted a lot of money. With a hope to end this madness I turned to internet radio promising myself to abstain from purchasing any jazz music for 1 year. Thanks to apps like Tunein radio I was able to hear some wonderful music from around the globe while Pandora offered a great tool for discovery and focus. During that time I wrote down every song I liked and after a few months my taste started to emerge from the fog.

Subgenres

Bebop, acid, fusion, cool, and swing are just a few of the subgenres of jazz. It’s somewhat inaccurate to simply say I love jazz. I do have a love affair with the genre in general, just not all the subgenres associated with it. Dixieland, for example, is not my cup of tea at all. With so many subgenres and styles it would take a lifetime of study to understand them all. I just want to listen to the music, not study it. Here’s a couple of links if you’re unfamiliar with this topic and care to pursue a bit more:

Presently speaking

Well, I’m still in discovery mode and if you’re a music lover how could it be any other way? I have a few stations I listen to almost daily, The Jazz Groove being one. I usually start my day with this station and it’s wonderfully curated mellow mix of modern and classic jazz (which also happens to be perfect for some late night listening). Jazz24 is another station I listen to daily. It’s extremely popular for good reason. I’ve found a library’s worth of music listening to these stations and I encourage you to check them out.

Streaming services

Along with free internet radio streams we have a number services offering quite literally millions of songs for a paltry monthly sum. Streaming has most definitely taken over the music world and with the likes of Deezer HiFi and Tidal even picky audiophiles (like yours truly) have embraced the model. What’s not to like? If for nothing else these services allow us to explore music in ways which were unthinkable just a few short years ago. I’m a fan.

The gear

After more than 2 years using a Bluesound Node 2 I decided it was time to revisit my favorite macOS music players. So, I brought my old Mac mini out of storage, did a bit of housekeeping, and downloaded the latest offerings from Sonic Studio and Damien Plisson. I’m glad I did. Both Amarra and Audirvana Plus have seen quite a bit of development since I last used either of them and both have improved in functionality and sound quality. I’ve also acquired a new DAC and USB/SPDIF converter. So much for being off the merry-go-round.

Components

  • Mac mini (2010)
  • Schiit Audio Eitr
  • MHDT Lab Pagoda
  • Decware SE84UFO
  • Omega Super 3i

Software

  • macOS High Sierra
  • Amarra Luxe and sQ+
  • Audirvana Plus
  • HQPlayer
  • Tidal

Cables

  • AudioQuest Carbon USB
  • Black Cat Cable SilverStar! 75
  • Better Cables Silver Serpent RCA
  • DIY solid silver loudspeaker cables

Miscellaneous

  • Salamander Synergy
  • IsoAcoustics Aperta
  • Sanus Steel Series
  • Brick Wall PW8R15AUD

Music library

Uncompressed flac on an Oyen Digital MiniPro hard drive connected via USB to an Apple AirPort Extreme.