A modest hifi - a Network / CD player directly driving an amplifier. I'm really enjoying how the Marantz and W4S work so well together without a preamp.
I got away from hifi a few years ago because over time, I had strayed from an essentialist philosophy to enjoy music, to pursue better, an enemy of enjoyment. I thought about extended bass. Room response, better. I bought another black box, then another black box. I made it overly complicated - subwoofer processor, more amplifier channels, more cables, more remotes. I was listening more to the representation of the music, instead of the music itself, so I lost my enjoyment, and listened less and less. So when I got really busy in life, the hifi went into boxes and storage for several years - I had lost site of what had mattered, the enjoyment of the music.
Being away from it helped me think differently when I came back to it. I'm still just as busy, but I realize that what I get from emotionally investing in the performance of the artists, allowing them to affect me, is time well spent. The pursuit of better only distracted me from being present in the performance. So after doing some listening and trialing and thinking, I pulled out all the extra black boxes to distill it back down to essentials.
In the comments, I put a bit of a running log about my thoughts along the way. Here is what I have removed:
Velodyne SMS-1 processor
Musical Fidelity x10 tube buffer
Sony HD FM tuner
All the associated cabling (4 interconnects), power cords (2 cords, 2 warts), and remotes (3)
These last few months of streaming classical music have been very nice - having access to a gigantic classical catalog in hi-res has spoilt me. I've also spent more time placing the speakers more precisely, so I think my system is a wrap.
My latest effort is in upgrading the visuals. It is nice to have a comfortable, easy on the eyes view while listening, so I'm putting my mind to it. The room is reasonably sized, but it serves several purposes - its my studio, my listening room and it sometimes serves as a gathering space for friends. Over the next few weeks / months, I'll be making an effort to minimize the space and make it more efficient for all its functions.
A change, but not because I was hunting for anything. My Bryston B60R developed an occasional disconnect to its remote sensor on the front panel, so there were time during which the remote wouldn't work. Since the Marantz has a variable output, I tested it with the Bryston then decided to swap out the Bryston with the W4S temporarily as I send it in for servicing.
I was very surprised by the sound. I had never felt I was lacking with the Bryston, it really is a superlative little amp. But the power of the W4S immediately made itself known - it drives the lowest octave through the Gallos nicely - the room and space of different recordings come through beautifully. It feels like I've added a subwoofer, without having to work through the challenges of integration.
I think the two, Marantz and W4S are a nice combination, sometimes boxes like each other. I can't say why. There is one less box for the signal to pass through (the Bryston's preamp), although it would be hard to argue that the variable output of the Marantz is as strong and steady as the Bryston's pre. But perhaps the W4S has a higher input impedance that works well with the Marantz? Who knows. I just know that it does sound lovely, full, deep, and the sound of the room, that feeling of the space of the music that I really appreciate, is present without all the complication.
And a nice consequence is...no remotes! Well, technically my laptop is a remote, but I'm usually working at it anyhow.
ejonbli - Glad to hear your thoughts, thank you. I think in my earlier stereo days, there was a record player, a cassette player, and a tuner. I'm looking at streaming as a (mostly) better FM tuner with more choices, control and flexibility and for that, streaming is working well. I work / study from home and simplicity and convenience allow me to have music and not be distracted from work.
I agree with you that I am not going to rely on streaming to keep a library for me. It is a convenience but not a panacea. Licensing agreements are periodically up for renegotiation, property ownership changes, etc. These can (and will) affect what is available. So while I enjoy the (for now) convenience of streaming, I know I shouldn't rely on it singly, that if there is music I love, I need to have my own physical copy and stay in control of what I can listen to. It is a new balance I need to find.
And I do regret shedding my small library, for similar reasons to you - hard to find, expensive to replace. Most of what I had, I really listened to. I'll try to do the same now, buy only what I'll listen to and this is where streaming can be a help. I'm mostly into classical now days, so I can listen to different renditions and recordings and decide which particular one I prefer as opposed to reading a review or having to buy to try.
Again, thanks for your comments, you gave me more to think about.
So one of the mistakes I made besides getting too concerned about numbers and room response, was donating all of my CDs and SACDs when I boxed up my hifi for storage. I'm not a collector, so I didn't have many, maybe 200-300ish, but they were carefully chosen and I really enjoyed them. Several would get a lot of play, such as Angela Hewitt, Chopin: Nocturnes and Impromptus on SACD, played on her now (unfortunately) destroyed Fazioli concert grand. Love that disc.
There are a couple different ways ahead. First, with internet radio, there is so much accessible, that I don't feel an urgency to start buying, acquiring, assembling a collection of sorts. I could try to go and find some of the discs I used to have and re-acquire them. That is certainly an acceptable approach, and I'll likely find some of those (like Hewitt). But CDs are so inexpensive now, that perhaps taking more chances on what I don't know about may prove to be more rewarding and horizon-expanding.
I love golden age jazz and classical music, and while I know a little bit about some to it, I am mostly an ignoramus. I think that is a good place to be, because I don't have to concern myself with finding the best recorded or remastered version of anything. I can concentrate on the greatest performances, and artists.
When I was younger, I used to have almost all of the Time-Life Blues CD collection. It was incredible. There are some performances in that set that are from another planet. Howlin' Wolf. Muddy Waters. I'm sure they weren't recorded with the best microphones in the best studios with the best anything. But, WOW. The energy, the passion, the performance. Those aspects trump it all, regardless of CD, SACD, vinyl, hi-res stream, or even the gear its played through. It's about the music and the performance, not the format and gear.
But. Format, right now, tells me that there are many opportunities in CD that just didn't exist before, and I am listening to one of them - Martha Argerich Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. 48 CDs for $110? Crazy wonderful.
I've updated the description as I think I am done trying to figure it all out. After a little bit of listening to the amps, I've decided that all the extra power of the W4S isn't necessary and it adds another box to the hifi. Sonically, I prefer the Bryston, not that the W4S is bad, at all, it is a great amplifier. But I don't listen to music so loudly, so the extra power isn't necessary (I must remember the essentials). I'll get a better photograph up in the next couple of days to show the final state.
I've learned a lot in this process. These realizations only apply to me, and it is only opinion, but here I go:
- I need to know what better means for me. I thought it meant more bass extension, better control of the room response. More power. I was wrong. Better for me was what I already had - uncomplicated, involving, musical, and a mind that is free from GAS.
- Pertaining to specs, at some point, better may just be an illusion. There is always a cost of better and at some point, it is a massively diminishing return. And there may be tradeoffs. I found that when I got bass extension it cost me delicacy. And simplicity, because I had too many boxes to turn on and too many remotes.
- When it isn't quite coming together, simpler is better.
- Music matters. Don't let gear get in the way. This one is tough, because we are audio people and place value on fidelity. There is a balance that each of us needs to strike between being true to the idea of an involving musical experience (good gear) and being sucked into making things technically better (more gear or more expensive gear) at the expense of music.
So I think my next upgrade is time - more time to listen and enjoy music.
I received and installed the ND8006, so I removed the FM tuner as I no longer need it. This is my first experience with streaming to my hifi (I've streamed with other smaller bluetooth speakers, but not my hifi), and I like it a lot.
Next, I'll be listening to the amps to decide what I like best. It would be really nice to be down to two boxes, the network / cd player and the integrated amp. Simple, undistracted, but the listening will tell me.
Listening is nicer when they eyes are at peace. Right now, things are a bit of a mess, everything out on the floor, but as I figure it all out, I'll be able to get it put away. The speakers will stay out since I like the sound of speakers in space, the rest needs to disappear.
Thanks birdfan. Originally, I was trying to do my own version of the Gallo sub amp, in an effort to add some room correction. I think one of the problems with my approach is that it didn't capitalize on the clever design of the Gallos - the dual voice coils. I think I ended up with content coming out of the subs that wasn't in perfect phase. I was really surprise when I went back to just the B60, how much more dynamic the music played. I suppose it wasn't the best idea to try to come up with a better solution than the guy who designed the system...
After several attempts to equalize the room and create a smooth reach down to 20 Hz, I've decided (for now) that effort is really just getting in the way. I've spent more time listening for room response and not music. How foolish am I? By trying to engineer a more accurate rendition (at least on paper), I have made it irrelevant by not enjoying music.
I've learned a few things. First, through the multiple attempts, I always felt like I was waiting for something to happen and it never did. It was a repeated slight let-down. I was doing some reading on filters and realized (again) that anything I add in an effort to "improve," brings with it all of its own problems. Less is best.
I put in Yim Hok-Man Virtuoso Pieces of Chinese Percussion (CD layer as my player won't read the SACD layer, yet) which is a fantastically energetic performance. I listened with all the gear to make the sub-octave then with it all removed, only through the Bryston.
On paper, the Bryston at 60wpc, shouldn't be able to keep pace with 125wpc into the full range (bypassing the SMS-1) and another 550wpc into the sub octave (through the SMS-1). On paper. But I didn't notice, because the music was so much more powerful, present and surprising and involving. I knew as soon as the first track started playing.
So the buffer and subwoofer processor are out. I'll listen to the three amps (the W4S is 4 channel with two different pairs of ice modules, so I'll give them both a listen) to decide which I like best, but my initial feel is that I like the Bryston.
Last night, I also played with the Cardas speaker position calculator. I've uploaded an image to show the new position. Definitely makes a difference, music feels more anchored in the room, more cohesive.
I've added an image of the wiring behind all the components (pile of wires). I'll be working on cleaning this up over the next few weeks / months. The big offenders are the silver / grey interconnects which are each 6 ft long. There are 4 back there, that's a lot of cable. These were the IC's I bought at a big box store to get the buffer and SMS-1 connected into everything else, meant as an inexpensive stop gap to get everything running, so they served a good purpose.