From My Lengthy Experience

I have chased audio equipment for many decades yet only recently discovered the component mix that creates the best-sounding system I’ve ever heard or put together at anywhere near its price tag. This system “ticks” all of my requirements and is the first time I’ve been able to do this.

I’ve built almost every basic design available and finally arrived at what I would call my “desert island system.”

This is an audio system that I could use into my retirement and then pass down to others in my family. My list of goals is specific, and one of my absolute requirements is that no component should weigh more than 40 pounds and be crafted to last a very long time. This system sounds superb and exceeds all of my criteria.

White Corian Clad OGY Speakers
Stephanie Stone

The Closer Acoustics Ogy Speakers Are Affordable When Used By Themselves

If you then add two open baffle bass 12″ drivers per side, you will have a world-class sound quality. The beauty is that you can purchase this one component at a time and begin accumulating slowly. Anyone can do it, not just the most wealthy in the crowd. Plus, you have a system that will change as you can afford it, and the best part is you don’t need to get rid of anything that will cost you a substantial amount of money.

I’m A Highly Focused Retail Audio Dealer & Original Equipment Manufacturer

A Desktop Audio System I Built MANY 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 this photo)

Richard Becker

I’ve spent 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—passive listening to other’s music versus recording my stuff.

I recently moved from Michigan to Boston, Massachusetts, and am changing audio directions and my business approach. My future interest is helping others create music rather than just listening to it. I’m now working with only a few products I use and believe in, and I have no interest in selling everything “under the sun” just to make money. Instead, I’m more concerned that my clients benefit from the advice and highly focused products that I represent.

I’ve built several recording studios, know how to record my music, and use Ableton Live and Apple Logic to create my tracks. I’ve experienced both playing and listening environments and am good at setting up audio systems that help to create and listen to music.


I’ve spent many years as a professional jazz piano player. I know what music sounds like when it’s “up on stage” behind my head and next to my left and right ears. I intimately know the visceral experience musicians render, and I try to recreate that experience with my audio system approach. I know what various instruments sound like and use this experience to evaluate any audio system I listen to. My musical playing style is improvised, similar to what you would hear when Keith Jarrett plays 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-laden experience. I can get in that position because of the years I’ve spent perfecting my playing ability so it can become automatic, and I don’t need to think about it.


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 considerable 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. Also, it must be three-dimensional and real-sounding. Trying to get recorded music to sound like this is a serious challenge. When played through an excellent audio system, it never can sound like real music – “live.” It can only come close, and the key is for the listener to enjoy the music playing and be captivated by an almost addictive sound quality that replaces the live performance. The emotional pull that this experience has on you is the most important. Without it, you are only being mental, and that doesn’t last.


What I just described also needs to be affordable. A high-quality audio playback system will cost between $5,000 and $15,000. It doesn’t need to cost more than that, and if it does, the audiophile is perhaps more interested in listening to equipment than the actual music.

Coming up with the audio system I recommend today has been a tough challenge that I tried to solve by buying, selling, and building my equipment for a long time. I discovered that speakers between 90db and 95db efficiently sound best, particularly if single-driver speakers are used and are easy to drive. Low power amps sound best (i.e., eight w/ch or less), mainly when the circuit isn’t “doubled up” to increase power, as you would find in a push-pull amp design. Consequently, I no longer use or recommend push-pull designs.

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 endeavor. You cannot exceed each speaker design’s limitations (it is a law of physics); instead, you must be happy with the good things the speakers you choose can deliver what you hear.

Building a recording system is different, yet it still utilizes these same sound principles.


The volume control in your system is the serious “brick wall” that prevents most of us from enjoying the entire quality of a recorded CD or record. It also is a roadblock to recording music well. The Bricasti DAC uses a volume control that is one of the best solutions I’ve come across. That is one of the reasons I use this DAC. In all honesty, the main reason is the quality of sound that comes from using their network card. It’s unmatched and allows your sound quality to approach that of a $20,000 statement streamer. The M3 DAC with remote volume and network card options is the best “sleeper” in high-end audio that I’ve found.

There are a ton of observations and rules that I’ve gradually uncovered (common denominators in any system design), and my exploration research and development has been profound, extensive, and extremely expensive over the many years that I’ve been doing it. I am a musician experienced with recording and am looking for recorded music that can hold my attention and cause my emotions to soar. Anything with listening fatigue (even to the slightest) does not interest me. Yes, I love detail, but I don’t chase detail for its sake only. It must be presented in a full 3-dimensional format that is addictive and takes my brain out of the picture. Plus, and most importantly, it needs to be immensely emotionally satisfying.


What I’ve eventually learned is how to put an audio system together that is easy to listen to, addictive, 3-dimensional, authentic sounding, and incredibly beautiful. I’ve avoided spending too much on things that don’t provide an acoustic or longevity benefit. Many of today’s high-end components focus on spending HUGE money on designing the chassis that holds the circuits. That is a massive waste of money, particularly with the 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 is 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, 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 in the long term.


I’ve abandoned listening to vinyl since it’s the most uncomfortable and demanding medium. 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. Instead, I want to create my playlists, focus on the single tracks, and set them up for my desired mood. The only way to do that is to work with digital. That’s what everyone is doing today, whether it’s played on a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer. It’s all digital!

That’s why I’ve owned over 50 DACs in the last eight years. I was interested in finding a DAC that I could enjoy while listening to music that was also accurate and close to how it was recorded. My listening system sounds excellent if the recording engineer did a good job. If he or she didn’t, I hear the problems, and that’s good. too. I know how to tweak poor results to improve them and “remaster” these poor recordings to a better quality.


I’m not a headphone fan. However, my favorite headphones are the Sennheiser HD800S. I own and use them with some of my favorite piano software when playing my piano controller on my Mac Studio computer. I use a Bricasti M12 DAC (rather than my recommended Bricasti M3 DAC), and my audio playback system uses RCA and balanced outputs simultaneously. If I were recording music, however, I’d use balanced for both inputs and outputs. But for sheer listening enjoyment, my 300B tube amp is the only way to go (in my well-founded experience opinion). That requires using RCA single-ended interconnects that are connected to my 300B amp.

My piano software is played USB into my computer, and it comes back via either my speakers or headphones, depending on which I desire to listen to (or both simultaneously). I connect my Apogee ADC interface to my Bricasti M12 using the M12’s balanced inputs. The M12 is a preamp plus a DAC and allows for two simultaneous connections. I use them both and toggle to the XLR inputs versus the streaming inputs that I typically use when using the Apogee.

All Bricasti DACs can also output sound to both outputs since my Bricast M12 (RCA and XLR) are simultaneously connected. I can create a beautiful-sounding listening system (the same system I use for listening to any pre-recorded music) when I do it this way. Whether you’re into listening or not, leave room for making your music. Being a Creator is critical to finding fulfillment in life. Being a passive listener is good but nowhere near as good as being the actual musician or composer at the creation front of things.