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Sunday, 22 June 2014

Comments

I only dabbled in enthusiast audio, stepping back when I realized that I was listening to the system, not the music. The Rolling Stones on a cheap car AM radio is still, after all, The Rolling Stones.

sounds a lot like the Leica or Hasselblad business models...

Enjoyed your article. I have two main systems (living room and office) also with my nose in a 27" Mac all day when I'm not on the road.

I've been slow to move to computer audio, but liked the Pure Music suggestion. But I think the Sony Hi Res Music Player may be my next move.
http://store.sony.com/hi-res-music-player-with-1tb-hdd-zid27-HAPZ1ES/cat-27-catid-All-Res-Audio?_t=pfm%3Dcategory

What is it, Mike, you don't like cats?
"-)

In the mid '90s I did a rash thing. I went to a stereo store with CDs in hand, listened to a variety of systems, and bought verbatim an exact copy of the system I liked best.
Which I used for a long time, until I pretty much stopped listening to music at all, and then have sold off (though some of it is still sitting on consignment somewhere.)

That meant I probably overspent on things like silly cabling, but the result worked quite well, and I didn't think about it again for years.

Maybe not such a bad plan after all...

I find the last paragraph puzzling. I'm getting into this hobby slowly and very moderately and so far it is much less complex than other semi-technical hobbies (photography, computer building, aquariums)...enough that I'm tempted to try some build-it-yourself from scratch projects (another youthful 1970s activity I can now afford). So long you have some sense how physics matters and you design stuff yourself in some aspect of your real world life, you know that these $100,000 system components aren't any better than $5,000 system components (that you still won't buy, because, yes, I'm learning and I'm not going there yet). Real issue is for the most part the recording, way before you run are buying components you shouldn't afford. My current system is around $3,500, could go up to $5,000-$6,000 end of the year.

I think the real issue is more: there is less local presence of hi-end audio than there used to be, in terms of local people who do it and merchants. So you need to buy online and return and/or do meets. I've not done meets yet.

We must be close to the same age! I spent way too much time in my youth worrying about how my speakers et al sounded and whether I could really hear distortion. I actually read "Stereophile" and "The Absolute Sound." I debated tubes and transistors too. I never fell for the $100/foot pure silver speaker wire though. Now I'm afraid to have my hearing tested for fear I'll feel the need to get rid of even my modest system. I got rid of all my vinyl years ago along with my CD player and turntable. It might be silly but I listen to my iPod Classic (lots of space) through an old Classe preamp and Adcom amp. My speakers are my pride and joy, the original Martin Logan CLS with a locally made 18" woofer. I do love my music, mostly chamber music and early music. I recently looked at the state of "high end" audio on the internet and reached the same conclusions you did, it's insanely priced, unless you're a 1%'er and I'll stumble along with what I have, actually enjoying the music instead of worrying about the equipment.

Certainly a different game than photography. My current µ4/3 gear makes much better image files than my first DSLR, even better than my 5D.

I'm betting today's high end stuff doesn't actually sound any better than yesterday's.

Another approach to the vintage game is to buy good stuff new - and keep using it until it is vintage. \;~)>

I think that's what I have done, without any conscious plan to do so. About 25 years ago, I spent a Lot of time and ear effort building a system.

All I've had to replace is the CD player. The second time a mechanical part broke, I couldn't find a replacement part. Everything else is now well preserved vintage.

Your comments about the bleeding pocketbook end seem pretty close to me. I was able to visit a couple of high end shops regularly, midday, midweek, so I got to listen to ridiculously expensive systems set up for real customers to audition, at some length.

Yes, a couple were spectacular, but the edge over just really good, was pretty thin. And I'd have had to remodel my house to do them justice.

After the tweeter in one of my first set of speakers had to be replaced, then a bass unit went out, and the maker was out of business. At the same time, Stereophile slipped, and rated the new B&W 805s, a pair of which cost significantly less than a new car, in their A - minimotor category.

I checked them out and bought. The magazine soon realized their error. B&W brought out the same components, but with two base drivers per box. Clearly, letting such inexpensive speakers into Class A was a failure of judgement (editorial, not aural, IMO). And now they would seem foolish to have the new B&Ws, which must be better, as they cost more and have more drivers, so the 805s were demoted to 'B'.

Oddly enough, they didn't sound any worse, and have graced my life with physical and aural beauty ever since.

For real vintage, consider the drivers in my home built/modified subwoofer/surround boxes. Sometime around say '62, I made a custom center channel woofer to go with my home made, 'Sweet Sixteen' midranges with dome tweeters.

I used a University 16" woofer with dual voice coils to mechanically mix the channels. Later, I bought another of the woofers, a pair of midrange horns, three way crossovers and rebuilt a pair of attractive walnut floor boxes so the panels didn't vibrate, to make three way, bass reflex tuned speakers.

Now, one voicecoil of each bass unit receives subwoffer output from a surround sound amplifier, while the other and the midrange and high end drivers, output suitably adjusted, handle surround sound.

Surround sound is from real speakers, not tiny, tinny things. Sub bass can be turned up so movies like Independence Day will lift you out of your seats, if I want. Mostly, they are balanced to subtly fill out the bass.

The inexpensive center channel sub-woofers back in the early 90s were 'slow', handling transients poorly. Mine are 'fast'.

So, are 60's drivers vintage? Or antique? I'll say one thing; they really built them back then. The woofer surrounds are still intact and supple.

Moose

On the other extremes, there are designers like Andrew Jones, who worked on >$30k TAD/Pioneer speakers, and designed a line of speakers for the masses.

http://www.stereophile.com/content/surpassing-expectations-pioneers-andrew-jones

The earlier version is regularly on close-out for $50 a pair!

http://hometheaterreview.com/pioneer-sp-bs21-lr-bookshelf-loudspeaker-reviewed/

Also, there is the KEF LS50, which even though at $1500 is nothing to sneeze at, represent something that was impossible to get at this price point years ago.

http://www.kefamerica.com/july12/LS50%20White%20Paper.pdf

"Chicks go for good stereos."
-My first college roommate, 1982.

Just as an aside, I find it amusing that pieces of equipment like that Sansui integrated amplifier are sought after nowadays. By contemporary standards it would be disregarded by the audiophile community for its three cardinal sins: 1) it's an integrated amplifier; 2) it has too many buttons and knobs, including (Shock! Horror!) tone controls; 3) it is japanese. The fact that people are now willing to pay small fortunes for such a purist's nightmare strikes me as a refined irony.
That's it. I don't want to delve into audiophilia. I can't be bothered with what looks like a revamped Technics SL1200 being sold for the price of a mid-sized european car.

If you take a look at the Halide DAC web page you'll see that prospective purchasers are promised that "Cryogenic treatement [sic] results in a smoother, more resolved sound."
Anyone know what, if anything that actually means?

Dave
Foobar2000>JDS Labs ODAC>iNano volume control>NHT M-00+S-20.

It´s sad, in a way, to see something like this and know that even if I weren´t price sensitive (and hoo boy am I ;) I still wouldn´t be interested in something like this despite how well made and appealing it might be to some.

I know music people tend to cringe, but the reality is my ears can barely hear any difference between mp3 and the higher end options. 16 years of noise in the Army and too many other noise exposures have ensured that. For those who feel this is worth it for them and their enjoyment? Cool. But I´d rather spend the money on my visual based hobbies (photography and marksmanship/hunting) where, with glasses, my eyes are still able to see as well as ever unlike my hearing which will never be the same.

As much I love audio and loved it as a kid too, I've always been fascinated by the particular species of "Audiophile OCD" that you mention.

I have a reasonably high end headphone system that I enjoy and that's only because my particular household isn't conducive to an open speaker system. If it were, I'd probably have something along the same lines as you - meaning a carefully chosen, well researched and moderately expensive set of components, comprising a system that I feel is 96% "as good as it can get" and be pretty satisfied with it. (Actually that paradigm pretty much describes my elegant little HP system.)

It's that other 4% (give or take a few points) where those audiophiles "who aren't sensitive to price", as you put it, live and I can never get enough of looking at and reading about their toys and their obsessions. I realize there are serious components and systems out there that more or less rate their extraordinary price tags - to a point - but how often is it that each new $80,000 "Speaker 'o the Moment" appears on the scene that has really broken down a barrier, or presented something completely new? In the sonic sense I mean. Or that new Amp, or Turntable, DAC, or Dog forbid, AC POWER CABLE!

Have these makers (and reviewers) of High End gear really made a new discovery, or a new breakthrough in sonic brilliance (or resolution, or nuance, or soundstage, or pick your own adjective) that no one has ever before experienced? And it's SUCH a breakthrough that it rates a price tag WAY in the five figures for....a DAC. Or a cable, or something like that.

I know this whole idea is old news and nothing even remotely close to a new concept. It's just that there's never any realization in the audiophile world that it's all just an illusion. That there's every chance your $5,000 system has 94, or even 98% of the sonic potential (and those last few percentage points being completely out of the range of human perception) of their $500,000 system (and possibly excepting the acoustic benefits of their lavish, dedicated "listening rooms"). These are also the people that obsess over RCA interconnect cables and speaker cables and AC POWER CABLES costing more than the average mid-size automobile. $5,000 cable break-in service???

It's possible that "audiophilia" in the highest echelons is actually a bona fide mental illness and the fun, hobby and toys aspect has been left far behind. I actually feel sorry of some of these people. And I'm also sorry this was so long, just needed to put all that out there.

It is nice to see Sansui equipment still being used.

I was involved with both Sansui and Akai Electric for a brief period of time, back in the 1990s, as part of the management company that owned and operated them.

At that time, the bulk of the business were high volume, low-cost items: VCRs, consumer stereos, car radios, CD players and later DVD players.

Interestingly, Sansui continued to hand make some really high-end audio equipment, in very small numbers, at very high prices, which they sold to a Japanese market. The quantities and revenue were insignificant, however, the Sansui engineers that I talked to were very proud of these products.

I have both the Sansui BA-F1 amplifier and companion CA-F1 preamp and I am lucky that they are still working today. The sound is totally open and clean and I hope that they continue to work as we both age together.

The business model for exotic audio equipment is based on low numbers and high prices, which is justified by marketing hyperbole.

The product that really caught my eye was the $14,615 workout machine that claimed that you could complete a workout in 4 minutes. They advertised in Scientific American magazine.

You can read about it here: http://scienceblogs.com/bushwells/2006/12/18/the-14615-headspinning-workout/

This is a totally cool looking device, but I continued with my daily 50 minute workouts using the Spinning machines, hand weights, step, elastic bands, and Pilates balls.

I never spent $14,615 on exercise equipment.

I don't really know what's happened with the world, but what you say of audio is equally so with cars, guitars, cameras, American Express "Black Cards" or any other somewhat-expensive item that has an aesthetic dimension. 99% of people who have lots of money also have no cool -- they're either suits or nerds, or nerds in suits. I believe that these hyper-high end instruments are sold to these rich people because they're trying to buy cool. Major case in point: Paul Allen.

I'm not going to go on my nerd rant here, but to sum it up in a couple of words, virtually every worthwhile thing that has been done in the world is done by nerds. I myself strongly identify with nerd-dom; I think cool guys are largely responsible for screwing up the world, but, women like them, so nerds try to buy cool. This needs to be seriously resisted.

When I was in London a couple years ago, some guy was checking into the hotel in front of me, and presented the clerk with an Amex Black Card. I don't know how much you have to spend annually through Amex to get one, but I've heard that it was something like $250,000. Anyway, I thought, "Well, maybe he impressed the clerk." And I thought, "The clerk doesn't look that impressed," and, "The poor bastard has to pay some humongous annual fee just to carry the card, and all he gets to do is impress desk clerks, who aren't impressed? What does that mean?"

One thing it means is that you really can't buy cool -- high end audio, vintage guitars once played by Billy Gibbons, great cars, terrific cameras...people may be somewhat impressed by the machine, but not by possessor. He's just some guy with a Hasselblad Stellar who thought he was buying cool, while *really* knowledgeable people know he just bought an RX100.

Which isn't all that cool.

Yep, Abbey Road, first album, still have it. And a nice Japanese pressing, also.

What file format do your store your music in on your hard drive? Apple Lossless?

I sold audio equipment in 1972-73. Sold quite a bit of Sansui, though it was harder to sell because (like Crown equipment) it was fairly "plain" looking compared to some of the Marantz and McIntosh gear that had much more impressive gauges and oscilloscopes on the front. Many of the guys who bought these rigs (and they were all guys) bought them less for the sound quality than for their assumed effects on other similar guys (awe, jealousy....) and women. I'm not sure what they thought the reaction of women would be but I suspect most women just rolled their eyes. I actually made a lot of commissions by selling audio systems to the occasional women who wandered into the store and were ignored by the other gear head salesmen. I treated them as I would any customer and helped them choose a system that fit their needs. Not infrequently they would invite me over to "help me set this thing up tonight". A little respect went a long way! =)

I happen to live in a world filled with musicians—people who create music for living and a life and who have exceptionally acute hearing in all senses of that concept. Which leads me to two observations. One: I don't know a single musician who thinks that investing that sort of money in a playback system makes any sense at all. Two: No matter what $500,000 audiophile system you play your recording through, it will never sound as good as a live performance.

I'm still using (daily) my Linn Integrated Amp I bought over twenty years ago.

As you've stated, Mike, the audio world has gone completely insane. I'm from the same era as you (even worked in an audio store), and think that anyone who would pay $5k or over for any piece of audio gear is in need of financial guidance and/or serious counselling.
My solution? I build, or work on, tube amps, and make my own speakers. To clarify, I don't design my own speakers, but there are so many good, reputable designers, (such as http://www.troelsgravesen.dk/Diy_Loudspeaker_Projects.htm) on the 'net who share their hard work and genius that I only have to do the wood work.

In the 1970's, I saved and saved and eventually bought myself a Linn/Naim record playing system, and a Naim tuner for radio. I loved that sound, it was after all, the definitive sound (at the time).

I had discussed other components with friends and a couple of published UK reviewers, one of whom demonstrated a lovely pair of horn loaded Impulse speakers. I was in his apartment, not 100 yards from the Barbican concert hall... As an aside, I said... "I bet you spend a lot of time in there... Don't you?" To which he replied, "no, not really, there's something wrong with the acoustics".

I made a point of going to a concert there, and it was great, but to an extent, I could understand his complaint.

That was, until my mother-in-law died, and I went to her funeral in an Irish country church. My wife's family knew a local fiddle player, and they asked him to play.

Once you have felt the sounds and vibrations that emanate from a violin in a small church, forget the emotional side of the dead, her death was long expected, but those sounds raise every hair... I have never heard any hi-fi, that could match that.

That Sansui amp looks nice. Not sure about that self cancelling lobe generating loudspeaker array behind it though.

I think you are right about musicians though.
Also there is a lot of audiophoolery about with people spending ridiculous sums of money on interconnects. I even saw a $5,500 extension lead for sale which claimed to improve quality... and fuses with gold plated end caps at $37 each. As if the electrons could tell!

http://sound.westhost.com/articles/myths.html

(musician and live sound engineer here).

I bought my first amp in 1977, along with a turntable which I can't remember and a set of B&W DM4's which got wrecked. Everything but the amp has changed in the remaining years. On to the third turntable (a Rega which is really ancient now but still delivers) and a set of no name speakers a friend built up for me in some old cabinets from bits and pieces.

Still love that amp, and unless you are from New Zealand you will, unless you are some serious amp nerd, never have heard of Rait. Have had to have bits fixed over the years but I hope it lasts me out.

I almost went down the audiophile route, but realised one day it was, to me, more about listening to the system than listening to the music.

In my studio I listen either via a set of nice Focal headphones and a DAC or via those Audioengine speakers you like.

My wife is a classically trained violinist who plays regularly. Her take on all this audiophile stuff? "I would rather listen to it live".

I was beginning an eye-roll about capital depletionary hobbies when I remembered the motorcycle sitting in my garage. The one I rode one time last year.

There's nothing worse than a faithful reproduction of a poor recording.

Like looking at images, I guess it all comes down to what you are actually listening to...the music or the sound.

Generally quite happy playing my (uncompressed) digital recordings through a Heed CanAmp and pair of Sennheiser 595s. Living in an apartment, anything else would be a waste of time as I can't play it loud enough to appreciate the difference.

[I have far more money invested in music than in equipment, several times as much I would guess. --Mike]

"It's also possible that musicians are so aware of what music "should" sound like that they're able to translate much more effortlessly in their minds from whatever recorded sound they're presented with to what they know it probably sounded like in real life."

This is precisely correct, though there is a bit more to it.

My academic training and professional background, I'm a musician. I live my life in two world: music and photography. It isn't that musicians don't care about music playback quality (we're actually pretty sensitive to its shortcomings) but that the playback is essentially a trigger for an internal experience that is based on being inside a live performance. I can listen to what an "audiophile" would regard as a substandard and pathetic sound system... and "hear" the performance with a depth and quality that someone who is not "inside the music" will never experience, even with the most astonishingly expensive and supposedly perfect audio system.

Related to this, something that my electronic music professor and mentor once made clear to me. (Yes, my academic training is in music composition and electronic music.) A thread in electronic music has been to try to use electronic instruments to act as surrogates for "real" instruments. He pointed out the irony of the fact that "perfection" in this effort would merely equal what the violin already does. (I'll spare you the details of why even this perfection would fall short.) So, as I wrote earlier, the most incredible, super-expensive, audiophile sound system can, at best, hope to come somewhat close to its model of perfection, the original unrecorded sound.

I hope this helps some audiophile types understand why what they focus on is a far, far different thing than what musicians care about.

Great Sunday post! Guess I have to ask though, what is the vintage system-primarily because that's what I'm working toward.

As a former recording pro for a short time I find the whole audiophile concept to be a giant mega-scam. I can almost guarantee that 99% of audiophiles would be shocked at how flat and lifeless most recordings are at the outset. Not unlike a good raw file (flat but highly manipulable). So while they claim to want to bring to life in one's home the closest reproduction to the original recording what they are actually doing is to reproduce the mixdown and mixdowns involve metric tons of compression, effects, gates etc even on a pure and clean sounding recording.

So honestly - what one wants with a good audio setup imo is something that colors the sound in a way that the listener enjoys simply put. But don't bs me and tell me that is close to what it sounded like when recorded!

Oh and I want to add - eq is super important - I eq on the fly when listening and find that is more important than some ridiculous noise floor or something (laughable to hear people who live in *Manhattan* argue about noise floors of preamps etc)...I have a simple high quality JVC receiver, good cables and some great and well-maintained KLH 6's and well some nights I sit back and can see him right in front of me...Elvis is in the the building!

Well, perhaps Robin Williams was wrong when he comically mused cocaine is gods way of telling you that you've too much money, it seems many audiophiles could easily be included as well..

I've been through several film and digital cameras and I don't listen to much music these days (kind of partial to the silence when I can get it), but I've still got the old JBL 4311's hooked up in my office/studio and I go out and crank those up every now and then. They still sound great.

From the tune Men Will Be Boys, by Guy Clark:

"The only difference between men and boys
Is the size of their feet and the price of their toys.."

HA! well I had a Sansui AU-999 as my first "real" amplifier around '71 I think. A few years later i ended up running the store where i had purchased it!
These days I am quite satisfied with the same stuff I have had for the last 15 years. A pair of N.E.A.R 50 (aluminum driver spider-less 3 ways)a couple class A "forte Audio" 50 watt amps, A forte preamp an old Thorens with a Grado and an old high end Sony cd Player. Audio quest cables all around including the turntable. $5k sound very very close to $20k, in fact very much close enough for me!

Musicians are not obsessed with audio equipment because the best equipment they have is the instrument they play or conduct.

The very same way photographers are not obsessed with the latest and greatest monitors/exhibition papers [for that, museum or gallery professionales are very keen on that equipment].

And I do play the cello, by the way.
;-)

I agree with your assessment of the current nature of high-end audio 100%. But there are people out there who are trying to buck the trend. Cullen Cable is a great place to look for power and speaker cables at really reasonable prices. And in terms of components, Schiit Audio is trying to have fun while reinventing quality low cost audio. One of the founders has been posting a funny, irreverent look at their genesis in a Head-Fi forum at:

Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up

http://www.head-fi.org/t/701900/schiit-happened-the-story-of-the-worlds-most-improbable-start-up

It's an entertaining read and is interspersed with some good technical background for those who are interested in such...

Rotel is a good example of a mainstream audio company that tries to make quality products for not too much money.

I'm also all for DYI when it fits the bill. I recently built a modest Linux-based network player from a Cubox-i4Pro running Logitech Media Server and Squeezelite with a DragonFly 1.2 DAC for output to our Musical Fidelity XT-100 amp. For the modest cost (~$400 w/USB drive for storage) I am quite impressed with its output.

--Ned

Nice send up. I'm sure these manufacturers bemoan the onerous taxes and job killing regulations they have to deal with while they're at it.

that DAC certainly is spendy, I guess the cryo cooling explains it. what exactly is the solid state physics basis for that anyway? btw didn't you used to use a different DAC? otoh the software might be worth a test drive.

It's interesting what David K says, and your response. I was just having a discussion today with someone about how, with all the options available for audio, from CD's, Super Cd's, downloads, mp3 downloads, etc., why hasn't anyone ever made an option of buying a CD or a download that wasn't compressed the hell out of? I don't know why I have to buy adult music (even on a CD), where the engineer has compressed the audio to sound good on a pocket player with mp3's and ear buds. Why can't I buy a version that has the compression of some of my 60's and 70's vinyl (very little); and it shouldn't cost any more, just be an option...

Oh woe, is me. I'm guilty your honor of having Audio GAS! I know a few amateur musicians and some professional musician's who have very sensitive ears and seek outlandishly expensive tube audio equipment.

In my case, I became afflicted with Audio Note, UK equipment (http://www.audionote.co.uk/):
AN Quest Silver monoblocks, AN CD 2.1x II; AN 2.1x DAC; AN M2 Phono stage; and alas a Nottingham Analogue (http://www.nottinghamanaloguestudio.com/) Spacedeck turntable.

... and the signal goes round and round and comes out of a pair of Audio Physic Virgo III's speakers.

TUBES RULE !!!

Oh woe, is me ...

[I have a tube amp. Currently in retirement, but not for sale. --Mike]

Hi Mike. You might want to once again peruse those magazines once in a while. Your conclusion is that high-ticket equipment is how the business works (or something to that effect).

Inexpensive hardware is being reviewed, but since the likelihood of it representing the best of the best--the raison d'être of the publications-- chances remain slim that Stereophile or TAS will shift exclusively to it.

Your assertion that advertising buys favorable reviews and/or generates reviewer income presumably comes from some knowledge the rest of us lack, or perhaps it's extrapolated from previous Editor experience in photog publication.

Thanks for sharing your observations, Mike. I love your audio posts. This one makes me wonder how many of those wooden Sony NEX cameras Hasselblad sold... (They should've priced them higher!)

Anyway, while I like live music as much as the next person, I actually often prefer studio recordings over live performances. I don't go to live shows to hear the sound reinforcement so much as experience the totality of the performance. But often what I love about a piece of recorded music is the production and what it does to make a song or band sound distinct. That's what I emotionally connect with. I don't care anymore if my gear colors the sound as long as I like it. Because of this, unfortunately, I am disappointed when a live show fails to deliver that recorded sound. (Yes I know this pertains more to popular music than acoustic instruments.) So I go live music less and listen to my gear more.

For what it's worth, the sound of most recordings (Van Halen being a notable exception) is fantastic on my 20 year-old recapped Naim separates paired with recent PSB speakers. Some good amortization to be heard at my house!

I'm one of those musicians.

I can tell you that even when I was treated to a listening session over an $80,000 system (all Krell and refrigerator-sized Wilson speakers) of a direct-to-disc Diana Krall session (where amazingly I could hear her breathing and when she would press / let off the Steinway's sustain pedal), that no recording ever sounds like the 1000 or so gigs I played. Multitrack recording is a great art done properly, but it is a representation of the recording process, and as good as technology is, it is not an accurate display of what it sounds like on stage or out front, even in 'live' recordings.

This is why I can't stand hearing good recordings on multichannel systems: They're great for movie sound effects, not much for music. I prefer 2.1, but the depth and the spatial representation will maybe be figured out in the future.

I'm utterly terrified by the thought of an 'I Tunes' only future, with that awful, Tylenol-required mix for earbuds only.

I'd like to buy something simple and efficient to listen to MP3s on, that doesn't sound like crap. That's all.
The rest is window dressing to me.
And I'm definitely part of the Jones Generation demographic - I once got stopped by Cream in a limo, lost on their way to do a show in Lowell, MA. I was about thirteen.
They - their driver actually - thanked me for the directions, and it wasn't until they'd driven away that I realized what had just happened.

I am still using a Sansui AU555 I bought on Okinawa in 1969. The Nivico copies of AR speakers are long gone as is the Dual turntable I brought home but that amp is still chugging along just fine.
Twenty years ago when we built our house I put in some B&W in walls in the living room and a couple of Boston Acustics in the kitchen all controlled by a couple of Niles volume controls and powered by the AU555. It sounds great to my 64 year old ears, the dog may differ on this point.
I do sometimes wonder how old reliable would sound with some fresh caps added but I have other places to spend my limited treasure.
Sansui knew how to build them back in the day.

[Yes indeed they did. That was the beginning of Sansui's best period--the amps were voiced like tube amps and the build quality was bulletproof. A 1970s Sansui amp if brought back to spec can still sound great and give good service today. The only real issue they have is that speakers were more efficient back then and now they tend to need more power. I have several wonderful 30/35-wpc amps but they won't quite run either of my pairs of speakers.

If you wait till it breaks, be sure to have it serviced. You can get it restored by a Sansui specialist for less than a crappy new amp would cost. --Mike]

On the subject of audiophile magazines, how do they differ from car magazines that routinely feature high priced, exotic cars that few of their readers could afford even to make a down payment on? So much of it boils down to the readers fantasizing about what a great experience it would be to own and use such equipment. In the vast majority of cases, the reality would not live up to the fantasy.

OTOH, there are people who can afford to get whatever their hearts desire, and in the world of audio, some of them may actually be able to appreciate the small differences that do exist amongst various pieces of equipment. Surely we are dealing with the law of diminishing returns, but it is wrong to dismiss marginal improvements as being completely bogus or imaginary. In a local audiophile store, I have compared systems alongside a true audio maven. Differences that I could not detect on my own became obvious when he pointed them out to me. Sometimes we need a little education to appreciate what is right before our ears and eyes.

Another thing about musicians listening to recordings is that they tend to focus on the instrument they play to the exclusion of everything else, sometimes even ignoring a poor performance by the rest of the orchestra because their instrument was played very well.

I sometimes wonder if that also happens to photographers. Pixel-peeping is one example, but do some of the aesthetic things we prize as photographers (and that we've spent countless hours honing our eyes to see) sometimes get in our way of seeing the whole forest?

Mike,

I am a high-ender, but of the rational kind - at least I'd like to think so. I roll my eyes at the mumble-jumble of high-end cables and magical stones/cones. Which is why I admire the relative sanity of the photography cognoscenti. You guys would never fall for $10,000 USB cables (WiFi degrades IQ, natch) or $5,000 batteries or $2,000 magical lens shades, would you? To be fair, there is no equivalents to pixel-peeping in audiophilia, where true A/B comparison is nigh impossible. Still, have to say, of the two hobbies, photography is the saner pursuit.

The thing about the "Hi-Fi bug" is that you can enjoy both equipment acquisition and the music it reproduces at price points to suit one's means.

I started in the early 70s, with my first system comprised of a Dynaco SCA-80Q (the 'Q' stood for Quad, but was just Dyna's phase shift gimmickry,) a BSR turntable and Koss Pro 4AA headphones. I later purchased Smaller Advent speakers.

Today a Dyna 80Q (though not the same unit) powers my back porch system, fed by a Sansui AM Stereo/FM tuner and streaming via an Airport Express. I also have two Fisher receivers (a 500C in service, a 400 needing repair,) DCM Time Windows 1A speakrs, plus some equipment in storage -- The Source turntable, Thorens TD160 turntable, Audionics CC3 amp, Dyna PAS-3x preamp, Fisher bookshelf speakers and an Eico AM/FM tuner.

All of this gear, when properly serviced as necessary, can provide "good sound" and lots of enjoyment, for not a lot of money -- certainly better than the equivalent dollars can buy new from current mass manufacturers.

Ah Mike, even producers use crap sometimes....the Yamaha NS10 is one of those contraptions found in every serious studio alongside more esoteric equipment like Genelec's and the like. Why because you and (and every Tom Dick and Harry) listens to music 90% off the time in less then ideal situations. And an NS10 is one of those less then ideal situations in a cheap little box. I know of one Dutch producer which takes that one step further. He takes his rough mixes and puts them on a cheap ferro cassette for the road. If it sound okay under those situations it will sound okay under 99% of the rest. Now the trouble with esotheric audio equipment is that most mixes are simply not made for it. Nice example is a CD of the Belgian due K's Choice. In one the track you can here a stool topling over in the studio (if I recall correctly). You only notice that with mid to top range headphones (I have a pair Sennheiser HD25's). But 99% of all listeners never notice this. So to good equipment can be frustrating sometimes. By the way US Keyboard magazine used Becoming X from Britisch duo The Sneaker Pimps (seen them life at Pukkelpop) with Kelly Dayton on vocals (now Kelly Ali), the D-Jay killer version original mix, as a reference point for a well made mix in the late 90th. So not all musicians are indifferent about audio.

Greets, Ed.

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