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

curious....I used to love i-tunes but when I acoustically treated my room it showed how nicely good recording could possibly sound but the draw back was it also showed how poorly bad recordings sounded. Most my 5000 i-tune songs now sounded horrible as compared to my CD and SACD selections with the acoustical treatment. My i-tunes actually sounded better before I did the treatments. Perhaps it is the DAC that you have that makes your i-tunes sound better. I had/have an M-audio transit between my laptop and my krell amp...Maybe I should try a DAC. Any suggestions?


"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.


Most of iTunes is in a lower resolution format, isn't it?

Listen to Grace Jones and decide for yourself if iTunes is not all that bad...what do you think?

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...the guys who developed the audio compression technology certainly did their homework on "masking" that occurs in our brain/hearing system.

Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne

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.




Now it is time to concentrate on finding excellent recordings...with such a great system you will now find that the recording quality will be far and above all your biggest problem.

I suggest you go to iTunes and download "Grace Jones - Slave to the Rhythm - Hot blooded Mix" (a Trevor Jones Engineered Masterpiece) and see what happens to virtual reality!

Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne

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.



Congratulations. I agree that the B&W 800D's look like they got off a saucer that landed in the forest beside your house...however if you are like me then it is ALL ABOUT SOUND!

And I bet they sound just great!

PS: you have positioned them very near side wall reflections - soft leather furniture - a rug - it should sound AWESOME (provided you are not sitting with your back against a wall/window!).

PPS: I am really so impressed that you have done such a great job starting from "scratch" and rocketed yourself firmly into the stratosphere of "convenient" high-end SOTA sound. Enjoy!

Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne

Displaying posts 26 - 32 of 32 in total