Tag Archives: audiophile

Speaking of synergy

While many of my audiophile brethren have continued using their CD players during the past decade, I have not. The convenience of streaming and computer-based audio is just too compelling for me to bother with physical media other than the occasional CD rip, thus my CDs and CD player went into storage long ago. Never looked back. Well, the time has come to revisit my almost-forgotten CD player and spin some CDs. How retro.

Why after all this time? I have a musician acquaintance who is interested in hearing my system. He’s somewhat fascinated with the path I’ve taken, which is in stark contrast to his own. Being firmly in the CD camp, my friend eschews streaming services and has virtually no interest in having a computer in his system. He’d like to bring some of his favorite CDs along for our listening session so I unpacked my 15 yr. old Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 and dug out some of my CDs.

The Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 (pronounced “New Tube”) is a modified Marantz CD player from The Netherlands. The refinements include a tube output stage which presumably has the most significant impact on the sound. Less digital. More goodness. In keeping with the KISS principle I connected the CDP directly to my amp. 

Being a jazz fan I first grabbed a smattering of familiar old favorites .. Chet, Miles, Stan Getz, and Bill Evans. I think my jaw actually dropped. I’m FLOORED with the sound quality. Next up .. Steely Dan, Mark Knopfler, and The Doors. I can’t recall my CDs ever sounding THIS good. Please don’t misunderstand, I always enjoyed the great sound from this CD player, but this is quite a surprise. So, what’s the deal? What’s changed since this CDP was last in the mix? Well, everything .. amp, speakers, cables .. everything.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle 

Achieving system synergy is often an accidental affair, but not always. Thankfully, many audiophiles on this same path to audio nirvana happily share their experiences. A perfect example is the countless reports of the near “magical” synergy between Decware amps and Omega loudspeakers and from recent personal experience, I concur. Apparently, the Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 is a great match as well. Synergy by accident? Yes indeed, a most happy accident.

 

A couple of old reviews can still be found on Enjoy The Music and Stereophile if you care to read more about the Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000.

 

 

Audiophiles – a rant and a wish

Audiophiles take a lot of abuse. Why the hate? Perhaps it’s the snobbery often associated with us that puts people off. I don’t really know for sure. What I do know .. we love music and persue the fidelity of it to the extreme (at least by some standards). Like most hobbyists we enjoy focusing on the minutiae. Such is the world of the hobbyist whether you’re into collecting coins, building model airplanes, or whatever floats your ship-in-a-bottle. Nature of the beast.

Sure, there are some audio snobs among us who spend $10,000 on a cable and tell us lowly enthusiasts our systems aren’t “good enough” to hear into the recording. Yeah, okay. Fortunately, said snobs are few and far between. I find most audiophiles are first and foremost music lovers and are a rather helpful lot .. we love to chat about all this stuff.

On a number of audio forums as of late audiophiles are spewing vitriol at one another with increasing frequency. This is disheartening to me. Where’s the friendly banter? Isn’t it enough that non-hobbyists take pot-shots at us and think we’re crazy? Healthy debate is one thing but the nastiness has gotten out of hand.

I’m not an engineer. I have no training in audio production. Nor am I an authority on anything audio. I’m just a music lover; thus, a subjectivist. As long as I’m not declaring absolutes (i.e., the best amp/DAC/cable, etc.) what’s the harm in sharing my highly subjective opinion? No, I won’t be setting up double-blind tests with golden-eared 18 year old virgins but I will be listening with attentive ears. My ears. My system. My room.

The beauty of audio forums lies in the sharing of experiences and information with other enthusiasts from around the world. This sharing helps to guide us through the myriad of choices available, especially in this noisy internet age we live in. Such diversity only adds to the collective knowledge of the community, of which, I’m happy to be a part of.

So, my (audiophile) wish going into 2018 is for less nastiness and more camaraderie.

Cheers!

 

EarStudio by Radsone

In early July 2017 I stumbled across an interesting product on Kickstarter and decided to back it. The Radsone EarStudio Bluetooth Receiver is quite the little gadget and proved very timely for me. Anticipating my next mobile phone would likely come sans headphone jack I began looking for alternatives to Bluetooth headphones and the dreaded “dongle”. Frankly, I have enough headphones already and didn’t want to invest in another pair. The 2 headphones I most often use are the Audio Technica ATH-R70x and the Bowers & Wilkins P5.

The EarStudio packs quite a bit of techno-wizardry into a tiny and very light-weight box to which you connect your corded headphones. Rather than re-hash said wizardry the Radsone’s Kickstarter page, along with these 2 reviews, sum up the device quite nicely:

Major HiFi – October 2017

TechHive – July 2017

Jack sh*t

Soon after backing the project I settled on the Google Pixel 2 which, of course, has no headphone jack but sports aptX HD capability and, as it turns out, aptX HD is right in the EarStudio’s wheelhouse (so to speak). After a longer wait than anticipated Radsone shipped the device to us backers and I must say, it was worth the wait .. the sound quality is the best I’ve heard from Bluetooth.

The EarStudio doesn’t appear to be available on the open market quite yet but no doubt you’ll be hearing more about this great little device in the near future.

 

Vacuum tubes

While I’ve had some experience with vacuum tubes in the past, it’s been extremely limited to say the least. I have a tubed CD player (Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000) which utilizes two 6922 tubes in the output stage and a tube/solid state hybrid integrated amp (Response Audio RAM 301) which utilizes two 12AU7 tubes for the preamp stage. As for an all tubed design, I was a complete novice when I purchased the APPJ PA0901A  integrated SET amp a year ago. This minimalist integrated has only one pair of RCA inputs and a passive volume control to attenuate the output of its tube circuit (6N4/12AX7 feeding a single 6P14/EL84 per channel).

Rolling along

It wasn’t until recently I decided it was time to try some different tubes. Why now? First and foremost, I liked the sound with the stock Chinese tubes and wanted to be completely familiar with the sound quality before swapping them out. In fact, I liked the sound enough that I didn’t bother changing the tubes before the summer heat arrived .. I like to use a cooler running amp during summer.

Over the years I’ve read countless reports of huge changes rolling tubes and, while I know there must be some truth to it, I’ve often wondered if there isn’t just a bit of hyperbole involved. Audiophiles are often prone to such exaggeration when changing anything in their systems citing massive gains in sound quality, veils being lifted, larger goosebumps, etc., etc. Color me skeptical.

So, Christmas present to self:

  • Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7
  • Mullard EL84 (matched pair)

These 3 tubes cost me just under half of what the amp sold for a year ago and was about as much as I wanted to spend. The result .. massive gain in sound quality, 7 veils were lifted, 6mm goosebumps emerged, and ..

Seriously, the APPJ PA0901A sounds like a different amp. Tone, timber, clarity, extension, soundstage, vocals .. everything changed for the better. Of course I had hoped for a result such as this but honestly, I’m somewhat flabbergasted. This isn’t a subtle change, I actually uttered “wow” during my first listening with the new tubes. To say I’m pleased is an understatement.

While APPJ has since discontinued the PA0901A in favor of it’s newer 1501A model, Tube Depot sells it’s own (re-branded?) version found here: TubeCube | 7 Stereo Vacuum Tube Amplifier. Highly recommended. And roll some tubes!

mullard el84

Hot damn!

Well, it’s about that time of year when I simplify my system. Why? Think cool as in cool-running.  Think summer. I love the heat and I want my windows wide open. I want to smell the rain and fresh-cut grass. Yeah, I’m one of those people and honestly, I really dislike air conditioning. The only place in my home I use air conditioning is in my bedroom during those times when a fan doesn’t do the trick. Of course my friends think I’m nuts and refuse to visit me during these months (God bless their delicate constitutions). I don’t care. I’ll have plenty of time to visit with them in their lovely climate-controlled homes .. of course I’ll need a sweatshirt.

Ch-ch-changes

The most significant changes are with the amp and the DAC. First and foremost, my Fleawatt integrated will take the place of the toasty little APPJ PA0901A. This wonderful sounding class d integrated amp runs as cool or cooler than any component I’ve ever come across. Second, instead of swapping the Bifrost Multibit with another external DAC, I’ll be utilizing the Node 2’s on-board DAC. Perfect for summer! Cool.

Fanning the flames

Yes, I run a fan in my listening space when the temperature soars. I suppose this isn’t practical for critical listening sessions but is just fine for everyday enjoyment. Funny, I don’t often find myself in the mood for these critical type listening sessions anyway. No doubt my audiophile cred will suffer and my club card will revoked because of this. Bad audiophile.

Storage wars

Like many an audiophile I’ve had way too many components pass through my doors over the years. Here’s a list of gear I simply don’t want to part with. While packed away for now, each will see the light of day again at some point. Why hold onto such excess? What holds my interest? The speaker collection, for example, consists of a quasi-ribbon panel, a two-way mini monitor with an AMT tweeter, and a pseudo-omni floorstander. Each design philsophy is radically different from one another and offers a different presentation with unique strengths and weaknesses. Of course, they all sound good too. I just can’t part with them. Besides, it’s never a bad idea to have backups.

DACs

  • Chord Electronics Qute EX
  • dB Audio Labs Tranquility (Gold Level mods)
  • Schiit Bifrost Multibit

USB to SPDIF converters

  • Bel Canto mLink
  • SOtM dX-USB HD

DDCs

  • iFi SPDIF iPurifier
  • UpTone Audio USB REGEN
  • Wyred 4 Sound bLINK

Preamplifier

  • PS Audio Trio P-200

Amplifier

  • PS Audio Trio A-100

Integrated amplifiers

  • APPJ PA0901A
  • Fleawatt Audio TPA3116D2
  • Odyssey Audio Cyclops (SE+ w/ps upgrade)
  • Response Audio RAM 301

Loudspeakers

  • Magnepan MMG
  • Mark & Daniel Maximus-Ruby
  • Ohm MicroWalsh Tall

Power Supplies

  • iFi Audio iPower
  • iFi Audio iUSBPower
  • KingRex PSU MK2
  • SOtM mBPS-d2s
  • Teddy Pardo Teddy 12/2

CD Player

  • Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 CDP

Miscellaneous

  • Chromecast Audio
  • Decware ZSB
  • Outlaw Audio ICBM-1

 

 

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.