Stereo overhaul

OK, Last stereo post for a while, I swear…


I have been willing to put up with a lot over the years in order to get the sound I wanted from my stereo. My goal has always been to get an equivalent emotional response as I would to a live show. It wouldn’t be the same experience of course, but the effect should have the same emotional/experiential value. In some ways, recorded music is superior to live events. No worries about mistakes or bad performances. The acoustics are much more controllable, etc.

My stereo has usually involved lots of boxes, cables strewn all over the place, and lots of fiddly things to do. Before I played any record, I cleaned the stylus and cleaned the record. I had to allow the tubes to warm up. I spent weeks experimenting with the angle and positioning of the speakers. I messed around with adjusting the acoustics of the room. I was constantly on the look out for better tubes, cables, and whatever was being made new. 

As I’ve gotten older, several things have happened. I live in smaller places now. Some of the speakers I’ve owned were 5 feet tall and weighed over 110 pounds. My current amplifiers weigh 50 pounds apiece, the custom granite stands they sit on are another 20 each. It’s just too much. I’ve also become weary of going through all of the little rituals to keep records in the best shape possible, hell, I don’t even want to deal with CDs anymore. I have gotten much more realistic about what I can actually hear. The top end response of my ears aren’t anything like they were when I was younger.

Maybe more importantly, the quality of sound vs. hassle ratio has gotten to be so much better. Even inexpensive AV receivers have DACs (Digital to Analog Convertor) that are pretty damn good. There have been great strides in speaker design, especially in regards to active systems. The vast majority of people have always had “passive” systems. That means you have a separate amplifier and there is a crossover in the speaker that splits the sound out to the various drivers in the speaker. Active speakers split the frequencies before they are amplified. The amplifiers only amplify a small range of frequencies and attached directly to the voice coil of the speakers. There are tremendous advantages to this approach and it obviates a lot of the stuff that I used to obsess over. 

Three years ago I bought a Squeezebox. You can think of it as a network music player. I was able to stream music from my computer to the stereo and from online services like Slacker Radio, Spotify, etc. Completely changed how I listened to music. I was able to control it from the computer or my iPhone/ipad. heaven. The sound quality was miles better than my old (and expensive) CD player. 

Logitech has announced that they are discontinuing the Squeezebox line. I had been hoping that they would come out with something that would fix the various little things that made me crazy. Spent the better part of a year trying to find something that would allow me to play music from my computer as well as all of the other services I love. Felt really stupid when I realized all I needed was an Apple Airport Express. That allows me to use airplay from any of my devices and play any music I want. So simple, and so cheap!

I think next year I am going to purchase my first pair of active speakers and get rid of my amps. My most complicated system had a turntable/cartridge and a CD player as sources. The turntable plugged into a phono preamp and then into a preamp. The CD player plugged into the preamp. The preamp plugged into the amp(s) and then they were plugged into the speakers. Next year I could very well have my computer, an Airport Express, and a pair of speakers all connected wirelessly. The amps would be inside the speakers. The DAC could be too depending on which ones I go with. Much less hassle, cost, and I shouldn’t give anything up sound-wise. I do love how technology is making our lives simpler and improving the overall quality as well. Exciting times. 

If you read my last post about amps, you might have a good idea about what a big change this will be for me. Looking forward to it! As I get older I crave simplification. Hell, it’ll be nice to get the space back:)

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