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.
John, You said: "After all, its 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.
Imdoc, 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.
Imdoc, 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.
Dwberryman, 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.
"Most people have trouble to tell 128 KBPS AAC files of iTunes from CD's...although you sometimes can tell with very careful listening. At 256 KBPS AAC files it becomes very difficult.."
I need to do some comparisons myself. However since I am a visual artist, when I think about audio digital files, I can't avoid the comparison with visual digital files.
JPG pictures are analogous to MP3 (or AAC) compressed audio files. They are great because they are small and easy to send over the web. However, I know how to see JPG artifact and it drives me crazy. I NEVER use JPG images for my art.
With compression something has to give since data is lost. I suspect the same is true with audio. That is why I have opted to go with the Apple Lossless format.
But when I create these from my CDs, I'm only getting "Redbook" CD quality, which means 16-bit with a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. There are files that are 24-bit with a 96 kHz sampling rate (or higher). It is in this territory that I wonder if the difference can really be heard.
Again as someone works with imaging every day, there is has been a raging debate for years about 8-bit files (which is the norm) vs. 16-bit files. Many photographers and artists admit they can't see the difference, but still use 16-bit because eventually the printers and monitors might show the difference.
Could it be that way too with audio files? As the equipments keeps getting better, we will start to hear more problems from the lower resolution files.
Shardone, Thank for the music suggestion. I've already downloaded the Grace Jones piece you suggested.
Tell me what you think about this plan for getting excellent recordings: I was going to check out reviews and then buy CDs. I would then RIP the CDs in Apple Lossless Format using error correction from iTunes.
Isn't that as good as it gets? Most of iTunes is in a lower resolution format, isn't it? I thought getting the music from CDs would be better. I know that higher resolution files are available at some websites, but I've read good scientific studies that show the difference is not perceptible in blind testing.
Shardone, Thanks for the feedback on the system. You wrote "it should sound AWESOME (provided you are not sitting with your back against a wall/window!)" Actually, there is 9-feet behind the listening area before you reach a wall. And I have a large Wool Blanket covering part of that wall.
So far, it sounds as good as anything I have every heard. It is approaching virtual reality. There is strong imaging, the clarity makes it easy to distinguish and place the various instruments. It is very REAL.