A Highly Focused Audio Dealer & Original Equipment Manufacturer
(A Desktop Audio System That I Built Several Years Ago. Metrum Pavane DAC, Aum Acoustics 2A3 Amp, Aum Acoustics LDR Volume Control & Rethm Speakers to the left and right of the desktop. A 27″ Retina display sits in front of this system – removed for the photo.)
I’ve spent several decades building, selling, and recommending various audio system designs. I’ve explored low powered and high powered systems. Low efficiency and high efficiency speakers. Vinyl compared to digital. I’m now working with only a few products that I personally use and believe in, and I have no interest in selling everything “under the sun” just to make money. Rather, I’m more concerned that my customers really benefit from the advice and highly focused products that I represent.
I KNOW WHAT “LIVE” MUSIC SOUNDS LIKE!
I’ve spent a number of years as a professional jazz piano player. I know what music sounds like when it’s “up on stage” right behind my head and next to my left and right ears. I intimately know the visceral experience rendered by musicians and I try to re-create that experience with my own audio system approach. I know what various instruments sound like and I use this experience to evaluate any audio system that I listen to. My musical playing style is improvised similar to what you would hear with Keith Jarrett playing a concert grand piano solo. I find myself going into a “trance” when I play like that and music comes through me from somewhere other than my mind. I consider this a highly heart based and emotion ladened experience and I’m able to get in that position because of the many years I’ve spent perfecting my playing ability so it can become automatic and I don’t need to thank about it one bit.
MY GOAL FOR RECORDED MUSIC IS SIMILAR
I listen to the fine details in recorded music and expect to hear brushes on cymbals, the flesh on strings, the breath in a trumpet or flugelhorn, the huge volume and almost painful sound a saxophone player can render, vocals up close and “breathing” into a microphone, and numerous movements of the musicians and audience. It all counts in my opinion . . . but . . . at the same time, recorded music coming out of my audio system can’t be fatiguing or too bright and also must be 3 dimensional and real sounding. Trying to get recorded music to sound like this is a real challenge since when played through a really excellent audio system, it never can sound like real music – “live”. It can only come close and the key is for the listener to not only enjoy the music playing but be captivated with an almost addictive sound quality that replaces the live performance.
YES IT’S STILL EXPENSIVE
BUT IT ISN’T COST PROHIBITIVE,
. . . IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU”RE DOING
What I just described also needs to be affordable. A high quality audio playback system probably will cost between $5,000 to $15,000. It really doesn’t need to cost more than that and if it does, the audiophile is probably more interested in listening to equipment rather than the actual music.
Coming up with the audio system I recommend today has been a really difficult challenge and one that I tried to solve for myself through buying, selling, and building my own equipment. What I discovered is that speakers between 90db to 95db efficient sound best particularly if the crossover network is simple and easy to drive. Low power amps sound best (i.e. 10w/ch to 25w/ch) particularly when the circuit doesn’t need to be “doubled up” to increase power. Single ended, class A, low powered amps sound best but of course can’t easily drive most speakers so choosing a speaker that you like becomes a serious endeavour. You cannot exceed the limitations that each speaker design provides and instead, you must be happy with the good things that the speakers can provide.
THE VOLUME CONTROL IS THE “BRICK WALL” IN AUDIO
The volume control in your system is the serious “brick wall” that prevents most of us from really enjoying the full quality of a recorded CD or record. There are a ton of observations and rules that I’ve gradually uncovered (common denominators in any system design) and my exploration and research and development has been deep, extensive, and extremely expensive over the many years that I’ve been doing it. I truly am a musician looking for recorded music that can hold my attention and cause my emotions to soar. Anything that has listening fatigue (even to the slightest degree) does not interest me. Yes, I love detail but I don’t chase detail for it’s sake only. It must be presented in a full 3 dimensional format that is addictive and takes my brain out of the picture.
MY PERSONAL APPROACH
What I’ve eventually learned is how to put an audio system together that is easy to listen to, addictive, 3 dimensional, absolutely real sounding, and incredibly beautiful. What I’ve tried to avoid is spending too much money on things that don’t provide an acoustic or longevity benefit. Many of today’s high end components focus on spending HUGE amounts of money on the design of the chassis that holds the circuits. That is a huge waste of money particularly with constant buying and selling of these expensive components. Do it right and build it appropriately. Create longevity for the item but also realize that some things only last so long due to the movement of technology. Still . . . circuit design is #1, simplicity is a goal for all parts of the system, longevity counts where appropriate, and there are a tone of items you need to have in place before you should spend more money on chassis design or how good a component looks. What it sounds like is most important. Fortunately, really good sounding equipment typically is well built and you don’t need to worry about using flimsy crappy chassis or cheap components. Spend your money wisely and you’ll benefit long term.
WHY I ONLY LISTEN TO DIGITAL
I’ve abandoned listening to vinyl since it’s the most uncomfortable and difficult medium to listen to. Up and down and moving around doesn’t interest me plus I rarely like all of the tracks on both sides of a record. I’m lucky if I want to listen to more than one or two. Rather, I want to create my own play lists and focus on the single tracks and set them up for the type of mood I want to be in. The only way to do that is to work with digital.
Also, the volume control solutions that I build typically have only one pair of RCA jack inputs and one pair of RCA jack outputs. Because I prefer singled ended power amps, I’m not concerned about creating a balanced system and there’s no need for XLR connectors. Balanced systems also require twice as many internal components and as a result cost considerably more than equal quality singled ended systems. With short cables runs, there isn’t much of an advantage of balanced over single ended so for me, RCA jacks and single ended simple designs rule. If you were in a recording studio, long cables would be used and hence the grounding that a balanced system can provide would become important. With home audio, however, it’s rarely needed.
MY SYSTEM INCLUDES BOTH SPEAKERS & HEADPHONES
I’m not a headphone fan. However, my favorite headphones are the Sennheiser HD800S. I own them and use them when playing my piano keyboard controller into my iMac Pro computer with some of my favorite piano software. I use a Metrum DAC (Pavane or Onyx) and my audio playback system uses the RCA outputs to connect my high-end components together. My headphone amp is balanced and I connect my headphones balanced into that amp. As a result, I have two systems connected to my DAC – one RCA single ended for speaker playback and XLR balanced for headphone listening. For me that’s important, since I use both, and this approach works extremely well. I do not need two separate DACs to do this. My piano software is played USB into my computer and it comes back via either my speakers or headphones depending upon which I desire to listen to (or both at the same time). In fact, both systems can output sound at the same time since the Metrum outputs (RCA and XLR) are simultaneously connected.
My Recommended Audio System
I. NOS DAC WITH SUPERB MUSICAL SOUND QUALITY
- Sonnet Morpheus Digital Analog Converter
- Audirvana Music Player Software + Izotope Ozone 8 Mastering Software Plugin
II. AUM ACOUSTICS LDR CUSTOM VOLUME CONTROL
- My own LDR Based Custom Volume Control In Desktop Sized Chassis
III. AUM ACOUSTICS TRIODE TUBE STAGE (super clean 2nd order harmonic distortion)
- Aum Acoustics Custom Triode SE Tube Stage
- 1975 6N23P SWGP Silver Shield Rare Triode Tube
IV. USB CONVERSION & DC POWER
- Kecees Dual DC Power Supply (12V for LDR and 7V for Matrix converter)
- Matrix USB Converter
- DC Power Cables (for Kece and Matrix)
V. AC POWER CABLES
- Aum Acoustics Custom Furutech AC Power Cables
- SurgeX Custom Power Conditioner
VII. SPEAKER CABLES
VIII. YOUR CHOICE OF SPEAKERS & POWER AMPS
IX. RACKING & VIBRATION CONTROL