My Recommended System

For many decades, I’ve built and represented (as both a dealer and distributor) many audio brands. I tried all of the significant system gyrations (sealed speakers, ported speakers, open baffle, tube amps, solid state amps, tube preamps, solid state preamps, power supplies, cables, and you name it). I’ve tried almost every combination I could think of (including multi-amp systems with electronic analog crossovers outside the speakers) and even tried speakers requiring two people to move. None of these systems were ultimately satisfying.

The Bricasti M3 DAC With Remote Volume & Network Card Options

I’ve always been a near-field listener and enjoy listening to music while I work at my computer terminal. Hence, most of my systems have flanked my work desk, including the giant behemoths that require two people to move. I use a 1 1/2″ thick solid walnut top custom desktop on an electric sit/stand desk. My desk chair is a Herman Miller Embody chair, and my bookshelf speaker stands are also electric and height adjustable (made by Space Labs). When I use floor-standing speakers or the OGY/BOB combination that I recommend, I move the stands and place the speakers in the same position.

I’ve found that most speakers have been too forceful for near-field listening (sitting up close). I eventually gravitated toward trying the Linkwitz 6-channel system (to adjust the volume on each of the six channels) and used speakers provided by Linkwtiz in Germany (his LXSirius). I have built several Pass-designed six-channel analog crossovers (available only through Linkwitz in Germany), custom Hypex-based amps for this system, and all cables needed. I’m a Hypex OEM and have used their modules for these amps. However, this wasn’t the system I’d been looking for, even though it’s close.

Hagen Monitors That Sit On Top Of A Pair Of BOB Open Baffle Bass Speakers
A Pair Of BOB Bass Augmentation Speakers
Inductor Needed For Each Pair Of BOBs

The Linkwtiz system showed me the acoustic issues in my room (even after considerable room correction techniques). I’ve benefited by listening near-field critically instead of the mid or far-field, as many are doing. However, the music still didn’t sound correct, and I kept experimenting. This was done within the last two years, so it’s a very recent experiment. Before that time, and for decades prior, I kept trying by building what I couldn’t find and selling what were considered some of the best components but weren’t for me. I kept buying and selling gear, which eventually cost me what I consider to be the price of a small house. One of my wire experiments, where I had custom-annealed platinum, gold, silver, and copper wire, cost me about $5,000. And, none of that cost was re-sellable. I’ve tried – more than anyone I know or have bumped into. I’m honest when I say this system is the best I’ve ever heard. It is, and that’s not just some marketing hype.

Despite all these attempts, I kept learning and gradually came to some conclusions. Nelson Pass is right. The most essential watt is the first watt. Everything in addition to that first watt powers the speaker and brings sound quality into your room. However, sound quality suffers if you are too far from that 1st watt. Using high-efficiency speakers with low-power tube amps doesn’t quite work either, and staying too close to this 1st watt was not a good solution either. I’ve tried that for many years, and my favorite tube amplifier (I’ve built myself using the best parts I could source, including Yamamoto tube sockets, Hashimoto transformers, and all film caps) is the 45-tube that puts out a maximum of 2 w/ch. The problem is not the amp. The lack of good speakers needed to be efficient enough to play well with only 2w/ch of power and to be reasonable in size and weight.

My Custom 45 Tube Amp Costs $6,000 In Parts (without tube cost) And Requires 100+dB Efficient Speakers

I’ve tried to find good speakers that are 100 db efficient or higher, sound good with all music, aren’t the size of refrigerators, and don’t require two or three people to move them. I’ve given up on that direction. It isn’t possible and doesn’t work for me, and those who tell you it works are so invested I wouldn’t believe them. The optimum speakers to use are between 99 dB efficient. Everything in audio is a compromise, and this is the best compromise I can put together for a total system that costs under $30,000. $30,000 is a lot of money, and my goal for this ultimate system was to satisfy the poorest person interested in getting started (at a much lower cost) and the critical audiophile with a considerable budget. I’ve finally found that solution, which I recommend you use.

Good two-way stand mount speakers sound better than floor standing speakers but still have issues. Crossover-less single-driver speakers sound even better, but those are also a compromise, but less if chosen well. The Voxativ Hagen speaker with their AF-2.6 driver solution that I’m recommending is the absolute best-sounding single-driver speaker combination I’ve ever heard, and their drivers are only 5″ in diameter. This is the best system I’ve used, and I’ve used some esoteric, expensive single-driver speakers.

It doesn’t seem to make much sense initially, but if you listen to the Hagen’s with the correct amplifier, you’ll understand that my sharing is accurate. No matter the type of amplifier, these are the best speakers I’ve heard, but the bass is somewhat lacking, and they sound too lean if you use anything other than a tube power amp. Those are the only areas I can fault them in.

My Recommended 300B Tube Amplifier

Yamamoto A-09S 300B Amplifier

I also recommend the Hagen monitor with the BOBs, which sound best when using a 300B tube amplifier. The power is just right, and the 300B tube amp can be tuned to your liking using a specific amplifier and tube complement (either smooth and full or tight and more linear). The 300B tube amp is perfect for these two systems and is the most powerful triode-based single-ended Class A type of amplifier that I’ll use. It’s the perfect compliment! Biamping the BOBs provides plenty of “grunt” for the large 12″ pair of drivers per channel, and the 300B amp is regulated for use only with the Hagens.

If you don’t want to disturb your neighbors and listen at low volume at night, these are probably the best speakers at any price and need no bass augmentation. But with the addition of the four BOB open baffle 12″ drivers, you end up with one of the finest-sounding audio systems you could put together at any price. Volume is fully adjustable on the BOBs. This system will play near-field, mid-field, and, if placed correctly, even large rooms. It is more flexible than anything I’ve ever found, and I like what I hear – so much so that this is my favorite system to show to my local customers who want good audio in different price ranges. The components don’t change. Everyone keeps adding to the primary system if they want to go further.

Speakers like the Hagens and the OGYs don’t have crossovers, and consequently, your power amplifier needs to put out only around eight w/ch into 8 ohms. But of course, those 8 watts need to be good ones since you can hear everything. The Hagen bookshelf speaker driver has a maximum power rating of around 25 w/ch. An excellent 300B-based amplifier (not a low-cost amp from China) will power these speakers in an ideal fashion. I recommend using a superb amplifier because the Hagens are incredibly transparent, and you hear everything, good and bad. The cheap tube amps typically have issues you can’t get around, and you will find them if you buy them and listen to them over time.

An excellent and suitable 300B tube amplifier also takes the edge off the tremendous transparency those single-driver speakers have without a crossover. That’s not a fault and is a benefit, but Hagens likes to be driven with an excellent tube amp to sound the best. This amp needs enough power to operate a 99 db speaker and has the grunt to sound good, but only when using the Hagens alone (without the BOBs). If you use two BOBs per side (four in total) to gain the “grunt” you would expect from those large 12″ open baffle drivers by adding a 2nd amplifier to play just the 12″ drivers (they take up more power due to their size). The best way is to bi-amp this system using the 300B amp for the Hagens with a low-cost volume-controlled Class D amp for the BOBs.

If you are like me and want the ultimate sound quality, bi-amping is the answer. Yes, it costs more, but an excellent volume-controlled Class D amp that I recommend you use for the BOBs doesn’t cost that much and is still affordable by almost all end users. Solid-state amps yield a better result when powering low bass in an audio system. Tube amps do better in the higher regions (high bass, mid-range, and treble). The Hagen/BOB crossover is set at 125Hz. That is ideal for this combination and provides a sound quality that is difficult to beat, particularly at the cost of what I’m recommending. Both systems (300B amp alone or bi-amped using a Class D amp as the 2nd amp) are first class without compromise. Plus, with a tube amp, you can “season” your system to sound exactly like what you desire and your room requires by changing tubes. You can’t do that with a solid-state amp.

Bass reproduction isn’t as fussy as midrange and treble but does require good clean power. The Hagens play to 70Hz and then begin rolling off. That’s what physics bestows due to their small cabinet size. Even so, their bass is present, even though not at US standards. It’s enough, but US people like even more robust bass. Bass augmentation done well is like adding an excellent floor-standing speaker, but the total cost is much less and more effective using this direction. Plus, it’s tweakable and uses the best sound reproduction method for the treble and midrange, as well as a different, more appropriate system for the bass. If you want more body and even more robust bass, you’ll add the BOBs and use them as stands to place the Hagens on top of them. Floor space requirements are minimized (about the same as stands for just the Hagens) and can be tuned to your environment and personal preferences.

This is an ideal solution and a building block strategy while you listen to your system and confirm that each addition you make is an improvement. I can’t think of doing better than this. Cost-wise, the improvement is excellent and not the typical high cost for low improvement that you’ll find with other solutions. Also, all of the components I use are archival, and no one component weighs more than the 300B amp. That’s your max at around 32 pounds. Anyone in your family can lift every single component in this system, which is one of my requirements for assembling a system like this long-term (no more than 40 pounds for any one component).

However, the sound quality of this system exceeds that of other much more expensive and extensive systems that use the typically heavy and oversized components in a dedicated audio listening room. This tremendously flexible system can satisfy even the most discriminating audiophile. Most people will love the sound this system creates at whatever level they decide to stop. However, the components must be carefully chosen since the speakers are incredibly transparent and deserve excellent equipment.

WAF is also important and one of my concerns. Doing this as I describe, building my recommended system will minimize the pushback you would get with other typical audio system designs when you begin with the Hagens by themselves. If you do it my way, you’ll possibly get others in your family involved since this system is universally acceptable regardless of gender, age, and enthusiasm, even though enthusiasm might initially be low. All this requires is to hear the sound quality once, and then you’re hooked and maybe warm up to this system approach.

In conclusion, the best speakers must be small bookshelf types to get superb imaging and soundstage to create the best sound quality for the money.

I’m also recommending a system that will turn circles around the “all in one” approach used by the younger generations. Eventually, they will understand that what I’m sharing is accurate and separate their power amp and DACs. However, they will have spent a good amount of money going in the incorrect direction in my way of thinking. I, too, have done that, even though in a different way, and it is part of the journey and the learning. So, if you are into the “all-in-one approach,” you’ll eventually return to what I’m sharing and maybe accumulate an excellent system like this.

The “old guys” that were my clientele have died off and gone away (they were picky, too, and challenging to work with). They were replaced by a group of young professionals who had money but would not build the dedicated audio rooms their fathers and grandfathers built. Essentially, this group enjoys listening to music more than component chasing, gradually stopped using MP3 players (Apple iPods, for example), and moved to expensive headphone rigs. I was a Chord Hugo dealer when the first portable Hugos were offered, and I sold them like popcorn to this group. I also was an Audeze dealer but didn’t like the weight, the clamping pressure, or the lack of proper sound quality that the headphones provided. I like standard speakers much better. Even though I’ve had many headphone rigs, my Sennheiser 800S headphones (that I preferred from a comfort level) are in storage. I’m not too fond of headphones. I’m a speaker guy. You would be, too, if you had my recommended system in place.

I’ve played both piano and trumpet and was a professional jazz piano player for many years and a member of the musician’s union in my town. My gigs were booked about two years into the future, but I no longer play professionally. Instead, I’ve tried to assemble the best audio system I could and have tried many different things to get the sound quality close to real music. You can learn from me if you take the time to listen to what I have gone through.

My finest piano was a new Bechstein Model B 7’6″ grand piano (its cost today is $250,000).

I built a custom room for it. Its sound quality was superb. For me, playing the piano is like riding a bicycle. I can always get back to playing some excellent “chops” no matter how long I stay away from the piano. I’ve put in 10,000+ hours on that instrument and can only say that my audio attempts have focused on getting the same sound quality I experienced when I played in my jazz quartet on stage with a good piano.

I have also spent 10,000+ hours on my audio exploration and spent my money trying to do this for a long time. With the piano, I’ve played in many different environments on many different pianos and found that they were all different, much like room acoustics and personal preferences for audio playback. Yet, there was a common thread, and that is what I now use to evaluate what I find as I still try to acquire the absolute best audio system that is still affordable. What I’m sharing isn’t cheap, but it is affordable for anyone interested in creating the best-sounding audio system – for them. Plus, it can be acquired over time, one component at a time. I can’t come up with anything else that comes close to this system.

Steve Huff recently reviewed the OGY and BOB combination using a single Class D amplifier to power it. No one has done a review for the even better combination – the Hagens on top of two stacked BOBs. But I have and am sharing the results. You want the Hagens.

I read all the reviewers, and Steve Huff is a reviewer that I don’t like as much as others, but I enjoy what he does. His mp3 sound quality convinced me that the OGYs plus BOBs could be one of the best audio systems anyone could put together at a low price. In the following review, Steve is correct, and the sound quality is front and center to back up what he shares. However, he isn’t familiar with open baffle bass (he is just getting started) and seems to be glued to a Class D amplifier design. Every system he reviews is the best he’s heard so I would take Steve’s review with a “grain of salt.” However, when you listen to the mp3 files he shares, you’ll hear the potential here. It’s real. With the Hagens substituted for the OGYs, the result is stunning. Here is Steve’s review of this system:

Steve Huff’s Utube Review Of The OGY/BOB System

This is only a little about me, and I don’t want to bore you any further, so I will get to the point very soon.

I found that small bookshelf speakers work better for listening, and my prior attempt was with a pair of 50th-anniversary Falcon gold badge speakers. I’m not interested in building a particular audio room since that’s the opposite direction of what I’m recommending that you do. It’s expensive and not required unless you have bottomless pockets and plenty of extra space. Most people don’t; even if they did, they aren’t interested in this direction. These small bookshelf speakers sound better than anything I’ve previously tried but still weren’t right due to their old crossover design. They had too many compromises, and I quickly found them. They were also grossly inefficient (82.5 dB). But their excellent sound quality caused me to evaluate everything I was doing and head in a new direction.

Using a world-class single-driver speaker like that in the OGY works better than any speaker design I’ve used before. The key here is the voicing done by another person or another way of saying this is the lack of voicing that an excellent single-driver speaker (like the OGY) brings to the table. Do you know what that person likes? All they are doing is textbook work, and eventually, they learn how to assemble filters that create their crossovers. But their systems sound like how they voice them, and no matter how hard they try or how expensive their components are, their filters get in the way of the actual audio quality.

You probably don’t have the learning needed to develop a good crossover yourself, and even if you did, the OGY speakers would be better, particularly at their low price since they don’t have crossovers and the parts needed to create them. You are better off using an OGY single-driver speaker design without crossover components to improve your sound quality. That’s what I’m recommending here.

The missing piece is good bass augmentation. Speakers don’t integrate well with subwoofers, and I’ve tried many brands at all price points. They don’t, and I’ve given up on that direction. The Closer Acoustics BOB bass augmentation solution is one of the best solutions I have found and is good enough for me.

I moved on, and my willingness to try brought me to the Closer Acoustics OGY speakers. I’m now the first authorized US dealer for these speakers, but more importantly, I can share how to put this system together to optimize them correctly. These are single-driver speakers and are tiny. But . . . they are more accurate than anything I’ve owned or heard before. They are somewhat devoid of the bass register, even though they play down to 40 Hz. To make these a world-class system, you only need to add two 12″ bass speakers under each OGY and use them as stands for the OGYs. The sound still doesn’t go into the home theater bass register realm but fattens up and becomes beautiful. When I heard Steve Huff’s mp3 sound quality, I quickly became a dealer for Closer Acoustics. The OGY/BOB system he reviewed was breathtaking!

Once I heard the OGYs, I knew from experience with both single driver speakers and through building tube amplifiers that a 300B amp would sound the best and using a pair of Voxativ Hagen speakers with A2.6 drivers would turn circle the OGYs. This could be the ultimate audio system but ultimate is good enough for me. I’ve been looking for this system for all of my adult life.

So, to summarize, my current system starts with the source as the essential key item, the speakers next, the power amplification next, the tubes next, and finally, the cables needed to fine-tune this system.

HERE IS WHAT I RECOMMEND TO GET STARTED

1. The Bricasti M3 DAC with optional remote control and optional network card are the items I cannot recommend more. Yes, it’s expensive (at $7,500 retail), but it is one of the best values in audio that I know of. The network card that sits internally within this DAC has a sound quality that competes with the $20,000 statement-level Innuous streamer. The volume control that comes with this DAC is world-class, and I’ve found that the volume control is the “brick wall” in audio. When you don’t need a preamplifier and don’t use USB from your computer or streamer, you benefit substantially; the network card option is only $1,000 of that $7,500 price tag and provides almost $20,000 of value. I recommend streaming and playing music using an RJ45 cable, not a USB.

If necessary, I can start you out with any DAC (where you like the sound quality), but I recommend you save up and purchase a Bricasti M3 if and when you can afford it. That’s my best advice. You won’t be sorry. Bricasti DACs are made here in Massachusetts, and they repair old components they built. Everything they use is custom-made with their own CNC equipment. You receive the best quality from Bricasti and the knowledge that your gear was made in the USA and will be serviced here if needed.

I’ve owned about 50 DACs in the last eight years and can only tell you that low-cost DACs are improving, and until you reach the $6k to $10k level, you won’t improve your sound quality by spending more. Instead, you will obtain a different type of sound, and I can help you make that choice. You’ll notice that I no longer use a vinyl disc turntable. Turntables cost too much and are a pain in the butt to use. I’m too fussy in what I like and might only like one song on both sides of a record. I’m unwilling to go through the gyrations needed to own a turntable. I’ve sold my LP12 Linn custom turntable and have never been happier. I only stream music from Tidal and Quobuz, and my NAS drive uses ripped CDs. That’s it. I recommend you do the same and put all your money into purchasing an excellent source (your DAC).

By the way, I was using a Lamipzator Baltic 4 DAC with Innuous Phoenix USB device before hearing the Bricasti M3. Brian at Bricasti (30 minutes away in Medford, MA) sent me home with his fully loaded M3 in a Pelican case. When I first connected it, it blew away my Baltic 4 DAC with volume control, custom paint, and the Innuous Phoenix USB device. That Lampizator DAC system cost me over $10,000; the M3 was much less and sounded considerably better. I no longer use USB to access my DAC; instead, I use an optical RJ45 cable. I’m willing to share how to do this properly with my customers. This knowledge will not be shared with others until they become customers of mine.

By the way, the Bricasti factory is only about 45 minutes from me, and I pick up my orders in Shirley, MA, where the DACs are made. I’m no longer interested in anything made overseas or made in China. The Bricasti DAC is the finest DAC I’ve enjoyed using out of all of the DACs I’ve owned.

2. I would start with a pair of Closer Acoustics OGY bookshelf speakers and an inexpensive pair of Amazon-purchased stands. I’m a dealer for Closer Acoustics OGYs (and other products) and can obtain whatever color you like (natural, wood veneered, or corian clad). However, I only have the Corian white and Corian black OGYs in the inventory. These are the best of what Closer produces and are not much more than the wooden veneered options. They are the only OGYs I will purchase myself.

These are ordered directly from the manufacturer in Poland. The starting price is $1,753 for the white Corian pair, and the most expensive pair in shiny piano black Corian cladding is $2,103. You will need a pair of stands, and I would start with something inexpensive from Amazon. Maybe you will end up here, but you should plan to keep going eventually and add two BOBs (also made by Closer) under each OGY and use them as stands. That addition, however, will take some additional money and maybe some time to accumulate, but all of this is an affordable and optional solution.

Closer Acoustics OGY – Technical data

  • Broadband loudspeaker with transmission line
  • EMS LB5 broadband chassis from Electro Magnet Speaker France
  • Impedance 8 ohms
  • Efficiency 91 dB
  • Frequency range 40 Hz – 18 kHz
  • Recommended power up to 15 watts
  • Size 13.2*30.6*31.2 cm (w*d*h)
  • Weight 8.6kg
  • Finishes: Piano black Corian clad and satin white Corian clad are the only two finishes I inventory. Corian dampens vibrations and provides a better and more refined sound quality than the wood-veneered OGY. They create the best sound quality and don’t cost that much more than the other wood veneers. This is why I now only sell the Corian-clad OGYs.
OGY Monitors (5.20″ wide x 12″ deep x 12.28″ high)

The OGYs are rated at 15 w/ch for power and are about 91db sensitive to 8 ohms. They are an easy load, and a 300B tube amp with these small speakers will create an excellent sound quality. Suppose you want to go up to another level in sound quality and efficiency. In that case, I recommend using the Voxativ Hagen bookshelf speakers that are 99db efficient and provide an excellent upgrade for the OGYs.

However, the Hagen’s cost now is nearly $10,000 (just for the Hagen pair and not the extra required for the BOBs), and only the well-heeled audiophile might be interested. Yes, the Voxativ A2.6 units are better (99db into 8 ohms), but it’s all a matter of what percent sound quality increase you receive for the money spent. I’ve used the Voxativ A2.6 in a pair of Charney Maestro Extreme cabinets and love them. I demo both in my studio, and if you are looking for the absolute best sound quality, the Voxativ Hagen’s would be my choice. The Hagen monitors are a similar height replacement for the OGYs (similar driver height and size), and when combined with the BOB open baffle units (that they also sit on top of), they sound excellent. The higher efficiency of the Hagen speakers allows for low-powered tube amps without strain, which is why I like the Hagens over the OGYs. 91db versus 99db into 8 ohms.

Voxativ Hagen Monitors With AF2.6 Drivers (8″ wide x 10″ deep x 14″ high)

If you add the BOBs, I recommend using a low-cost Class D amplifier with volume control to power the BOBs, much like the amps I’ve used in my Linkwitz system. The bass extension doesn’t require the most expensive sound quality since it doesn’t play above 125 Hz. A reasonable cost volume-controlled Class D amp would be a perfect 2nd amp for this system and allow for matching the volume to the tube amp you use for the OGYs or Hagens on top.

3. Acquire a 300B amp. I’m building mine, but you can purchase a good one for a reasonable sum. I will share more about this option and the other 300B amps I’m acquiring.

My Upgraded 300B Tube Amp

4. Following my suggestions, I’ll guide you in placing your audio system in your room. If you are more of a mid-field to large room listener, room treatment will become even more critical than a near-field listener since your room’s acoustics will affect your sound quality even more than your components. You will eventually need to do both to get the best sound quality. Listening near-field can save a lot of money and allow you to perfect your sound quality to an unheard-of level. But . . . of course that is up to you and what you can afford to spend.

I can help you acquire this entire system, including bi-amping, if that is within your capability, or possibly help you use components you already have and head in this direction. Purchasing a pair of Corian-clad OGY speakers would be the first thing I’d do, and you probably don’t have a pair of those . . . yet. Let me know if I can help. I’m willing to work with you to design an audio system you will enjoy and one with good WAF due to the quality and looks of what we assemble.

5. Optionally add two BOBs per channel (4 BOBs) plus a low-cost, volume-controlled Class D power amp and bi-amp (two power amps) to this system. I chose this system for my demo system, and you would do the same if you heard my system. You are welcome to listen to it if you make an appointment to visit my studio. More about that will be shared later on.

Closer Acoustics OGYs Bass – Specifications

  • Low-frequency section with open baffle bass
  • EMS B12 woofer chassis from Electro Magnet Speaker France
  • Impedance 8 ohms
  • Efficiency 94 dB, adjustment to OGY via coil
  • Crossover frequency 125 Hz
  • Recommended power up to 100 watts
  • Size 44.0*38.5*80.0 cm (w*d*h)
  • Weight 15.5kg
  • Versions: Suitable for the OGY and the Hagen (with A2.6 drivers)