One of the hardest tasks for me, on a personal level, is keeping an open mind. On the one hand I jump at the news of new technology, am completely open to it, lust after its news. On the other hand, the things I “know” to be true are hard to refute and often stop me from learning.
I am guessing this is a very human trait. We find what works for us, set up a rule set that keeps us safe and moving forward and deviate little from this behavior. It serves our best interest. But it also stymies our forward movement to learn and adapt.
For example, there are many among us that know vinyl is better than CD. There are many among us that know CD is better than vinyl. And there are those among us that know measurements tell the entire story. None of these are true. None of these are false. They are all circumstance driven truths, subject to change with the moving landscape of progress and new ideas.
The challenge I take on each day is to try and do battle with that little voice in my head telling me “no, no, no, that is fundamentally incorrect”. It’s a tough battle. That little voice is not my friend. It does not have my best interest at heart. It is rather a selfish voice.
If you are one of the more extraordinary people that can constantly challenge and compare your rule set against the ever changing landscape of technological progress, then you benefit more than someone like myself who constantly has to fight that battle.
I doubt I’ll ever win, but once in a while a small skirmish is won. That makes me feel good.
The preamp debate
Now that DirectStream’s are entering people’s systems the setup questions begin: chief among them is direct to the amp or through a preamp? This is not an easy question because it is so system and user dependent.
When I travel to show our products I never carry a preamp. Lugging a DirectStream with me is challenging enough, but the added trouble of hauling my preamp just isn’t worth it. And it isn’t worth it because there’s really little sonic advantage to doing so.
In Music Room One I have a preamp: a tube preamp to be exact. And I vacillate between the euphonics of keeping the preamp in the system and the accuracy and revealing qualities of going directly into the amplifier. Both have their advantages.
On the one hand a preamp, at least in this main system, seems to bring body and a sort of realism to instruments and voices, yet also seems to subtly mask some of what’s in the music. Going direct doesn’t make me feel like there’s any less body, it sounds natural all right, but there’s also a certain directness that is bewitching in its hold on the music.
I understand most of us want a simple answer: yes or no to going with or without a preamp. But I can’t help with this. Which preamp are we discussing? I have not heard them all. What speakers? What are your tastes?
No, I fear there’s no simple answer. But I can tell you this, either way you go you’ll enjoy the music immensely.
And that’s what matters.
On our Community Forums there’s talk of tweaking out the DirectStream DAC already: changing internal wiring, removing filters, adding better ones, making tweaks that seem obvious.
I have two thoughts on this: first, there isn’t a product in the world that cannot be changed or tweaked upon and second, wouldn’t it make more sense to spend some quality time learning all there is to know and enjoy with this marvelous creation?
Take any product, like this computer I am writing on, and I am certain I could better its performance. Despite the fact I have the maximum allowable RAM installed, I’ll bet if I searched hard enough someone has a hack to add even more. And the video card I am using to view the info on this computer: surely there’s a faster one.
But to what end? If I were having speed issues with my device, there’s no question of what to do, but I am not. In fact, it works amazingly well and I am enjoying its super fast performance.
The seemingly endless quest for better is what helps our industry thrive, yet it can be a bit overwhelming to many. Most people I know are happy as can be with what they have: I among them. Of course some period down the road I too will get an itch to explore the next horizon, build on DirectStream’s success and learned lessons. It’s in our nature.
But for now, I am still exploring all there is to know on this very high plateau of sonic excellence we’ve achieved. There’s lots more to discover here before moving on to the next hill.
When’s the last time you took inventory of your system’s components?
As an experiment I did, as recently as of yesterday, and was surprised at the accumulation of components I had plum forgotten about. Cables laying around no longer in use, Noise Harvesters placed at random from several years ago, decisions on the rack placement first made for convenience of testing but now wondering if they’re right, a 3-meter HDMI cable when I only need a half meter, and so on.
I don’t know about you but clutter seems to build in my busy life and it’s helpful to step back occasionally and reevaluate all that’s in our systems, including setup.
A good spring cleaning should happen once a year. And guess what?
It’s spring again!
When you’re reading this it’ll be a day later than when I wrote it. Such is the power of scheduling!
After closing up the Munich high end show last night, I got up early this morning and had a wonderful run through the Englisher Gardens, Munich’s version of Central Park. The sun was finally shining after many days of cold wet weather. The park is extraordinarily beautiful with streams crisscrossing the pathways, trees just now flowering, as spring prepares to move to summer. What a gorgeous city and what a great day to be alive.
Here’s a photo of our setup in the show.
The picture shows the Raidho D3s we were fortunate to play with (they’re great!) and if you look on the table of equipment, you’ll note Scott McGowan’s Sprout driving the entire system. That’s the back of Scott’s head in the picture, speaking with our UK distributor, Kevin Akam. Sprout, fed from either Dr. Fiker’s turntable or DirectStream is a killer sounding product that lit the entire room up with music. What a great personal music system this product will make.
During most of the day folks were able to hear DirectStream on the Raidho’s, driven by version One of the prototype power amplifier I’ve been working on and reporting about. I forgot just how good this amp actually sounds: many asking what was wrong with just building this version and calling it extraordinary. I had to pause for a moment and remember why it wasn’t up to snuff. Certainly couldn’t tell from this demo room!
Tomorrow I will show you the coolest (and weirdest) gadget we came across at the show. Now, it’s off to the airport!
Did I just miss the invitation?
In response to my post of a few days ago, where I described the sparseness of my hotel room, some kind soul donated a branded bar of soap from his. Now that’s funny, and it really made my day start out with a good laugh. Thank you.
So where was I when Magico announced they were building a $600,000 horn loudspeaker? Really?
As I travelled around the show making my video for you, I popped into the Magico room to see what they were up to. Holy Toledo! Here’s two 8′ tall multi-driver horn loudspeakers on display, with a gaggle of wide eyed onlookers that were more interesting to me than this show stopper.
Were they more interested in just seeing what a $600K loudspeaker might look like, or perhaps just as incredulous (as I was) at the spectacle itself? Is Magico pulling our collectives legs here? I was tempted to stand in front of the speakers and video tape the onlookers rather than the speakers, but Magico’s Alon Wolf gave me the evil eye and I weenied out, shooting the monoliths instead.
I suppose now the gauntlet has been thrown and someone must top this price tag. We sure have an interesting field of endeavor, rich with spectacle and show.
Maybe someone could make a few bucks selling tickets to the sideshow ….. oh, wait a minute, it’s all included in the price of admission. And here I thought this was about music. Silly me.
Where are they all going?
The 2014 Munich High End show is now officially the world’s largest, and not by just a little bit. Exceeding, in rather handy fashion, the Las Vegas venue and even the combined attendance of all consumer shows in the US. So big is this show the venue operators opened up yet another hall for exhibitors to display their wares.
What’s fascinating to me is that everything, with few exceptions, is targeted at high-end home audio. Burmeister and Meridian are displaying a few fancy car systems, but even they are high-end. Video and home theater, once the “clear direction” consumer electronics manufacturers were heading, is just about non existent.
One does have to wonder, however, where all these products are being sold. Dealers wring their hands that sales are down, yet coming to this show, looking at the throngs of interested spectators, one would have to ask that most basic of questions.
I don’t have the answer but, as I watch people line up at our booth to play with Sprout, come inside to hear a demonstration of DirectStream, or try and push my way through the crowd of anxious high-end wannabes, it sure feels like all is well, good and growing in the world of high-performance audio. And you know what? The demographics of the attendees looks young. No, this is not a bigger show for a bunch of music lovers my age, the scene is vibrant, young and full of fresh faces.
And that’s a good thing.
It’s all relative
The hotel I am staying at in Munich is a zero frills affair. They have but one amenity for washing, a squeeze tube of soap locked onto the wall so it cannot be stolen. This, in contrast to a fancy hotel that brands their little shampoo bottles in the hopes you’ll steal them and remember how great the hotel was. My hotel doesn’t even have tissues to blow your nose with, toilet paper will be just fine for you.
Yet, it’s clean, efficient, has down pillows and comforters to sleep on, free wifi and a healthy breakfast. In short, everything you need, not one thing extra.
A similar contrast exists between two vendors in near proximity to our booth. One, the Beast, is an over-the-top music server with everything, including the kitchen sink inside. The other, Project, sells the lowest cost minimalist turntables made. Both products have great value, relative to what you’re looking for. The Beast is an all out assault while Project gives you only what is necessary to play music well.
Shows like the Munich High End venue offer a wonderfully refreshing overview of the entire gamut of high-end audio.
I haven’t found any of them yet with branded soap to give away, but I’ll keep looking.
One of the things I most like about setting up for an audio show is the requirement to start fresh. You walk into a new room with perhaps new equipment, unfamiliar loudspeakers, furniture, and set about to make it work. You make it work as best you can with what you have to work with.
But it’s a fresh start and sometimes that’s the best way to maximize our systems. Before the immovable IRS loudspeaker system was setup in Music Room One, I wiped the slate clean in the listening rooms about every 6 months. Things change over that period. New kit, new wires, new settings, whatever. It’s not only refreshing to tear apart what you have, reexamine all your choices and build a new reference setup, but it’s almost always better than where you are now.
Yes, it can be a bit nerve wracking. What if you take a step backwards? What if you can’t do better? What if you fail?
At a show you face those fears because you have no choice. At home you have a choice. That little negative voice in your head is telling you not to do it, you’ll probably fail.
My advice? Any time you hear that little doubting Thomas in your head, give him (or her) a boot. That little voice will always get in your way and lies to you constantly. Don’t for a moment believe the voice.
Saturday’s a great day for a system, rebuild. Really.
First I want to take care of a bit of housekeeping. Terri always makes me clean up BEFORE I start making a new mess with a project, so following in her lead …..
Yesterday’s post we welcomed Sprout to the world and many of you wrote back asking for pictures and specs. Sorry about that! The link I provided to the pictures was pretty small so if you click here you will see the pictures and the description. Secondly, I have gotten quite a few complaints about the new Paul’s Post comment area where readers engage with each other on a post I’ve written. Our intent with the design was to make it more engaging, not less. Any help you could send my way as to what would make it a better experience would be helpful. Just email me back or, even better, post a comment! To do this, there’s always a post a comment link at the bottom of each daily post. Thanks for the help.
I have been playing, in Music Room Two, with a new subwoofer from REL. It’s a stunning product from a very special company. These guys get it. Really. If you don’t have a sub in your system, you should. There’s nothing like low deep bass. Yes, we can abuse a sub by taking its frequency too high. A perfect sub is one where it sounds like your main speakers magically have subterranean bass response, yet sound no different. REL subs integrate beautifully like that.
When I suggest REL is a company that “gets it”, here’s a note from one of REL’s owners, John Hunter, in response to my post about devices.
“REL’s chief engineer had recently made a minor change to our new LongBow™wireless transmitter at my request; adding an on-off switch (so we can easily demonstrate the new system) and a mast antenna to improve delivery of signal within “tough” rooms–i.e. rooms with odd structural elements that scatter the signal. LongBow is a zero compression, fast 24 bit, 48kHz delivery system that flat out works. ‘Nuff said.
So we get the transmitter sample in for final approval, prior to making a running change and he asks me to listen to it against our standard production version. I settle in to our new state of the art studio–Paul, our recent paths have so many similarities–and am struck by how lifeless, tight, cool grey and un-involving the sound is. Naturally, I question my own listening–it’s late in the afternoon, maybe I’m tired-and so I swap back to the original version. No, absolutely NO question, there’s a difference and it’s an important difference. Now I’m energized; switching back to the new sample, I realize the air in the recording is GONE, replaced instead with a hard lifeless quality that affects the entire upper midrange-to-low-treble and onward into the air above the music. All the subtle room cues present in the recording are gone, the system has cycled downward about $30,000 in delivered goosebump-inducing magic.
Justin comes down,listens and reluctantly, after hearing it for about three cycles of back-and-forth admits that there is a noticeable degradation.”So what else did you change Justin?” I ask. “Nothing”, he insists. After more questioning he recalls “Except the assembly factory did ask me for permission to get rid of the hand wiring of the inputs to the mother board that houses the A/D encoder but that can’t have any effect…” The words hang there like an unfortunate, methane-based release in church.”Since it’s late, could you, um, please re-wire the input board tomorrow morning with the copper wire we normally use so we can repeat this?” I ask. As you might imagine, the test reveals that the air, the music, nay, the magic is immediately restored.
Let me emphasize what we’re talking about; a not-hard-to-hear event that greatly affected the mid-to-treble liquidity observable by three of us in the entire system (not the bass)–Justin, myself who originally caught it, and a longtime employee Dermot–was caused by eliminating point-to-point hand wiring. Of an input block. On a wireless transmitter. For a SUB BASS system! Naturally, we re-wrote the spec to require restoration of the point-to-point wiring prior to production, but it goes to show how carefully good companies need to work to maintain their own standards and their culture.”
Thanks John. Wonderful to support a company that gets it.