I've always loved music, but I've never had a good stereo. I decided to use a new stereo a diet reward. It worked. I've lost 32 pounds and I am now hearing the best music in my life.

Two areas that I focused on in putting this system together:

1. Best Speakers

2. Best Source component

For the speakers I tried a series of top-rated expensive speakers in several cities (this is covered elsewhere in the forums). My wife and I both agreed that the B&W 800D speakers sounded the most "real" even though they look goofy.

For the source component I had assumed that I would get a high-end CD player. Specifically, I lusted after the Nagra CDC Player. However, as I researched this it became clear that all the authorities agree that a properly configured hard-drive based system is better than the best CD-player.

The nice thing is that for my art business I already had a high-end computer system with a 5.7 Terabyte RAID and a high-speed wireless network. Hence, all I needed to by was a first class Digital-to-Analog (DAC) converter.

I kept hearing about Benchmark DACs, so I called them up and they were very helpful in the final details on configuring my system to run using iTunes.

I wasn't going to spend much on the amps, cables and interconnects, but when I told the audio dealer I was working with that I would consider using lamp-cord for speaker cables he turned pale. Since it was a package deal I ended up with amps, interconnects and speaker cables that would not embarrass anyone who believes that those things matter.

I am not a true Audiophile, because I have no plans to tweak the system or upgrade for decades. Also, I am skeptical about many aspects of high-end audio such as expensive cables and interconnects.

But I do believe that appearance matters. I want the gear to look good. I like speaker cables that are thick and look well manufactured. I like thick aluminum plates and attention to detail. I've attached a few pictures that show some of the detail that I like.

But, even though I am not an audiophile, I think it sounds great.

Components Toggle details

    • B&W 800D
    I tried many high-end speakers but kept coming back to these even though they are goofy looking.
    • Benchmark DAC1
    An Apple Airport Express connects via a Toslink optical cable to a Benchmark DAC1(Digital to Analog Converter)
    • Audioquest King Cobra Balanced
    The Benchmark DAC1 connects via Audioquest King Cobra  Balanced interconnects to the the two  Classé  CA-M400 is a 400W monaural amplifiers
    • Audioquest Everest
    The amplifiers connect via Audioquest Everest speaker cables to the speakers. 
    • Apple 17-inch MacBook Pro
    iTunes on a Laptop computer connected wirelessly to a 5.7 TB RAID array with Apple Lossless files.
    • Classé CA-M40
    400 Watt Class A Mono
    • Apple XServe RAID
    5.6 Terabytes. Apple's rack-optimized fibre channel hardware RAID. Used to store the audio files in Apple Lossless format.

Comments 32

Just a thought, I've been doing some reading lately toward moving to a sever setup, and I've heard a lot of good things about the Cosecant Wavelength Asynchronous USB DAC. Wondered if you'd heard anything about it in the year of so since the last post here? Great setup by the way!



You should make brochures for high end audio - you have a real skill in photography. It would never occur to me to take a photo the way you have.

It reminds me of Thunderbirds credits where you see a close up of a detail of each amazing piece of machinery and then it flips back to a full view.

Well Done. Do you use a green marker on the edges of your film to get such amazing shots? I know it works on CD's - just wondering if photographers use it too?

Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne

Congrats on your weight loss. It's hard to do. I'm fighting with the last 15 lbs.

Deja Vu, but I have the same rug and the same computer! I think your speakers are quite attractive. They sorta look like R2 units! You can't beat B&W in my book. Among other sources, I also use ITunes and find the sound amazing; My favorites are in AIFF although it takes up so much room in the computer.

Beautiful setup as it does not detract from the other elements in the room.

One question: when you play them loud, do your windows rattle?


That's a pretty cool looking system.

First and foremost, enjoy the music :)


I have Krell Res 2's, Krell S-1000 pre/pro and Krell amps. I use the S1000 for my Dac fed by a Classe CDT-1 transport. I also have an Escient Fireball which plays music from the hard drive in lossless FLAC format. You would have to have pretty poor hearing to not hear the difference between the CDT-1 and the Fireball. On the other hand, it is nice to sit down in my listening chair and have every CD I own at my disposal w/o having to get up! That is the only reason I bought the Fireball, you can not beat that kind of easy access to your music collection.

Lossless is lossless on paper but when you sit and listen there is a huge difference. When it comes time to listen critically the 'lossless' player gets turned off and the CDT-1 takes over. The bass improves and the soundstage opens up among other improvements.


One more thing, from the picture of your listening seat it looks like you could move your speakers futher apart for
better imaging. move the right speaker about 8 inches ,maybe a foot . do the same with the left. now toe the speakers slightly in. the result should really show
you what you paid for ! also get that glass table out of the way ! reflections are not good. cant hurt, its free !!!
good listening, Chris Sain


Hi ! cool system. the only sugestion I have for you is to try a bel canto dac 3, it was better sounding than my bechmark. smoother, less grain with a bigger soundstage. I think it would be a better match with the rest of your system and it is small, very well built and not that expensive !! happy listening (ps. it looks cooler too!)


"After all, it’s not like the amp, wires, or source actually make a big difference, right? I figured as long as I have good speakers, that was all that really mattered."

Yes, that is what I absolutely believed 20 years ago. In fact, I hung on to that belief for at least 10 solid years. Then I upgraded my Hafler amp to a Bryston 3B-ST - OMG! The amp DOES make a difference....soon after that I went from the $29.95 Tara Labs Interconnects to Kimber Cable’s Silver Streaks. OMG! Cables DO make a difference….

So, for the past 10 years, I have been thoughtfully and carefully assembling equipment that I think sound great to me! I even became a reviewer for primarily to get exposed to all the different possibilities.

Trust us all here: The only way you are not going to go down that same road is if you never visit this, or any other audio site, again. And never, ever pick up and read a print mag either...

If you do, this is what WILL happen, someday, someone, will either write or talk to you about the difference product X has made in their set up, which may even have a pair of 801s in it. Even though you have been able to ignore the power of suggestion in the past, “just this one time” you will try another product/component and it WILL make your set up sound better. Once you cross the bridge to where you know, understand and believe that "everything" makes a difference there is no turning back.

So, if you don't want to go the way of everyone else on this site, you better leave now and just enjoy you set up as is...forget about us - it will save you thousands of dollars in the end!

On the other hand, if you do continue to visit this site, please let us know when that "change" in attitude happens for you. Then we can all line up to say, "told you so!"

It sure has been fun for me over the last 20 years, I am sure it will be for you too..

Enjoy the journey, John


System edited: I've added a more detailed description of my thinking process in putting this system together.


Maybe I am an audiophile. I'm certainly passionate about Music.
Likewise, I have an appreciation for beautiful gear.
I guess that allows me to call myself an Audiophile.

Even if I don't believe in tweaks?
Even if I don't believe in cables?


Also agree that "looks matter".

The electronic jungle in some setups almost never helps the spouse acceptance factor and just reinforces/confirms to the outside world that audiophiles are "different"


Hdomke: Love your set-up. I think you are on the leading edge of the future here. There will always be those that like tons of gear, but for many of us, simplicity is the key. A good computer-based system is convenient, attractive, and produces great listening experiences. Congratulations on a job well done.


Anyone that buys a speaker in the price range of the 800D is an audiophile! Like it or not you are doomed!

Seriously, I agree with you that appearances matter. Its all part of the experience and judging by the simple and elegant way your system looks, your listening sessions must be incredible! Congrats on a great setup.


Sorry to inform you that your ARE an audiophile ! - surely, and more than you think! You like music, and you like GEAR.

Have fun!


Great system and room. Anyone can make a room look like an electronics lab, where big speakers and gear overpower the room. The hard part is having big speakers that blend in, yet it still sound good. You have one of the best executed systems on this site IMO. Ain't it great never having to leave your chair to switch songs? Congrats.


You said: "After all, it’s not like the amp, wires, or source actually make a big difference, right? I figured as long as I have good speakers, that was all that really mattered..."
Certainly that is my (admittedly inexperienced) opinion. Speakers are everything. Yes, I spend a bit of money on the other parts too, but honestly, I think the entire reason my system sounds so good is that I have the B&W 800D speakers.



You may not be an audiophile – yet -- but you are certainly on the path. Anyone who spends thousands of dollars on speaker cable because they look cool, will soon find themselves spending many thousands of dollars more on stuff that not only looks cool, but actually makes your systems sound a whole lot better too!!!

My speaker wire is very thin and pliable, and is by far the best speaker cable (along with interconnects and power cords) in terms sound I have ever heard....I think they look pretty cool too.

Anyway, the 801s are a revealing speaker and you eventually learn to hear the subtle changes in sound after making a change to your gear, and, I suspect, some of these changes will compel you to buy more and/or different gear. All in the name of getting closer to the sound, THEN you WILL be an audiophile, like it or not.

Heck, I started 20 years ago. I went into the local stereo store (San Francisco Stereo on upper Market) with $500 bucks in pocket and a plan to get the best speakers $500 could buy. After all, it’s not like the amp, wires, or source actually make a big difference, right? I figured as long as I have good speakers, that was all that really mattered and I would be set for many years to come.

Unfortunately for me, the dealer had the once very popular, full-value-for-a-more-expensive-pair-within-a-year-trade-up policy, so about 11.5 months later, I sealed my fate. I traded my bass-banging-party ADS speakers for the sophisticated (and party) B&W DM3000 – a great speaker, even by today’s standard. Fast forward, I now have a set up “valued” around 67,500.00 and love every penny of it.

By the way – Congratulations on your weight loss!!! I am sure you feel great and you do deserve your new sound system. Enjoy every minute of your new found life.



You wrote: "the beauty of all your files in one place is that it is easy to sort things to your heart's content to create all sorts of interesting playlist juxtapositions"
That is the truth!
I guess that is one reason for the runaway success of Apple's iPod.

And, now, if you can believe the "experts" lossless Audio files from a hard drive are actually acoustically superior to those from a CD player.

That means more convenience (through things like playlists) and at the same time the potential for better quality. However, ever step in the process has to be done just right.


System edited: Added some additional pictures of the gear


What I meant to convey was that a RAW photography file has not been manipulated (as much, anyway)as a JPEG (or other lossy format) file and thus has less artifact associated with it.

At any rate, the beauty of all your files in one place is that it is easy to sort things to your heart's content to create all sorts of interesting playlist juxtapostions.


You wrote: "one sould always get the music in the highest resolution possible...This is "sort of" analgous to doing digital photography in RAW format."
I am not sure I agree with your analogy. RAW files from a digital camera are analogous to the the musical score. That score must be interpreted. So too, a RAW file from the camera needs to be interpreted in a RAW processing program before it can be used.


You wrote "Most my 5000 i-tune songs now sounded horrible as compared to my CD ... Any suggestions?"
1. What format are you using for your iTunes music?
If yo are using a low-resolution MP3 format, that might be the issue.
2. "Maybe I should try a DAC"
I am not experienced enough to answer. Certainly many audiophiles believe an external D/A converter is better. When I did some simple testing on my own on my Airport Express I could not hear any difference between the D/A conversion it did compared to using Digital output and doing the D/A conversion on my Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter.


nice setup. i have close to the same setup. from the airport express (wired or wireless), i go into a jitter reduction device before going into my dac. the jitter device made a big difference to the quality of the sound. now i have a jitter device before each dac in all of my systems around the house. the new airport express supports 802.11n now.

i use apple lossless on itunes from a mac mini. i use it for whole house audio. i also control the itunes on my mac mini with my ipod touch using remote buddy.


It seems to me, one sould always get the music in the highest resolution possible. The hifi equipment may improve and be able to take advantage of higher resolutions some day.

This is "sort of" analgous to doing digital photography in RAW format. It's a pian but one then has the best possible (at that point in time) source.


Very interesting system!Also very nice room and scenery!I also wanted a very good stereo since I was a kid,,finally started putting it together as a reward for beating an addiction,one day at a time.Life is much richer now esp. with a great sounding system!Congrats on your progress!!!,Ray


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