Audiophilia Forever: An Expensive New Year’s Shopping Guide

Here are some of a many pleasing accessible low-pitched sounds that we have
heard in a past few weeks: a matched horns and clarinet, unequivocally soft,
in Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” accessible in 1950; Buddy Holly, in his
just-hatched-this-morning voice, singing “Everyday,” accessible in 1957;
the London Symphony Orchestra in full cry underneath André Previn, playing
Shostakovich’s comfortless wartime Symphony No. 8, accessible in 1973; and
Willie Watson’s rich-sounding guitar, concomitant him singing “Samson
and Delilah,” accessible final year. The source of all these sounds was a
vinyl long-playing record.

I attempted to quit. we attempted to give adult audiophilia. You competence even contend I
stopped my ears. That is, we listened to my O.K. high-end audio supply when
I could find a few hours, ignoring a inadequacies. But, many of the
time, we listened to CDs ripped into iTunes and afterwards played on an iPod
with a decent set of headphones. Hundreds of hours of song were
inscribed there: Wagner’s “Parsifal” and John Coltrane’s “Blue Train”
and a Beatles’ “Rubber Soul”—soul music, indeed! The glories of
Western music, if we wish to be grand about it, were during my fingertips,
and we was mostly content. For years, we relinquished a enthralling,
debilitating, purse-emptying robe of high-end audio, that feverish
discontent, that youth overjoyed yearning for more—a improved record
player, speakers with some-more bottom weight, a CD actor that completely
filtered out such digital artifacts as toll tones, brittleness, and

Most people listen to song in a approach that’s accessible for them; they
ignore a high-end stuff, if they’ve even listened of it, as an expensive
fetish. But audiophiles are restless; they always have some
sort of dream complement in their heads. They are ready, if they can afford
it, to swap, trade, buy. It’s not enough, for some listeners, to have
a good turntable, CD player, streaming box, pre-amplifier, amplifier,
phono stage, speakers, and top-shelf wires joining them all together.
No, they also need a power conditioner—to freshen a A.C. current.
Does it matter, any apart thing? The cables, too? Is it all
nonsense? The debates fury on, for those who are interested. At the
moment, a hottest thing in audio is “high-resolution streaming”—the
hope, half-realized, of removing unusual sound by the

We audiophiles wish timbal accuracy. We wish a formidable strands of an
orchestral block disentangled, voice recordings that exhibit chest tones
and a transparent top, pianos that sound conjunction tinkly nor dull, with the
decay of any note postulated (not cut off, as it is in many digital
recordings). We wish all that, nonetheless a sound of live song is ineffable.
The idea can never be reached. The query itself is a point.

Recently, we have been solemnly though usually drawn behind in. In my heart, I
have lusted after steel and potion boxes; we have left to audio shows in
New York and Las Vegas—those bizarre affairs, both joyless and
elating, in that manufacturers and internal retailers take over
emptied-out hotel bedrooms (carpets are necessary; many improved for the
sound) and set adult their apparatus in front of curtained windows. You
walk in, we sit, we listen, we chat. The song is roughly always jazz,
classical, or folk. Technical information flies around a room, some of
it incomprehensible.

At a New York Audio Show, we listened a good setup, featuring Luxman
electronics (one of a vital Japanese high-end manufacturers) and
Triangle speakers, from France. Man, that was good. The fellows who set
up a room—Jeff Sigmund, of Luxman, and Jason Tavares, of Adirondack
Audio and Video—promised to re-create a same complement a few weeks later
at Adirondack’s salon on East Fifty-seventh Street for a some-more sustained
listening session. In anticipation, we wandered around town, listening to
good, costly systems during high-end sell showrooms. we offer the
following as a anniversary (and mostly high-priced) selling guide.

There’s accessible song all over a place. How, and where, does high-end
audio fit in? YouTube, for instance, is filled with good music, some of
which sounds decent adequate with a right headphones (Sennheiser makes
good ones, like a HD 1, starting during dual hundred and fifty dollars).
There’s any accumulation of cocktail and jazz on YouTube, many of it drawn from
live performances. In classical, there are such things as a late
Claudio Abbado’s videotaped final concerts with his
handpicked Lucerne Festival Orchestra, including many of a Mahler
symphonies; restored Toscanini Beethoven from 1939 (audio
only), unresonant though crackling with energy; and Furtwangler’s deep-toned, spiritually fascinating Beethoven and Brahms with a Berlin
Philharmonic, from a late forties and early fifties. You could compare
performing styles on YouTube—matching, say, Karl Richter’s version of a Bach Mass
in B-Minor, from 1961, with a Munich Bach Orchestra and Choir (grave,
eloquent, tolerably paced) and John Eliot Gardiner’s period-instrument performance, that employs
a smaller band and drilled carol (clear textures, dance-like
rhythms, radiant splendid sound), from 2015.

And afterwards there are thousands of marks accessible for streaming from
Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora; or, if it’s exemplary we want, from
Classical Archives, with a countless recordings of, say, Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” including versions conducted by Boulez,
Doráti, Haitink, and many other conductors. Yet there’s a serious
problem with many of a streaming services: a sound is no some-more than
adequate (exceptions to follow). And therein lies a tale—a tale, from
the high-end audiophile’s indicate of view, of blurb opportunism,betrayal, and, well, audiophile-led redemption. A tiny potted audio
history is now in order.

The initial betrayal: in a sixties, Japanese solid-state equipment
(Sony, Panasonic, Yamaha, etc.) emerged as a low-cost mass-market
phenomenon, pushing American peculiarity audio, that had done analog,
vacuum-tube equipment, low underground. The vast American names (like
Marantz and McIntosh) stayed sensitively in business while a accumulation of
engineers and entrepreneurs who desired song started tiny companies in
garages and toolsheds. It was (and is) a story of romantic
capitalism—entrepreneurship during a many creative. Skip brazen twenty
years, to a second betrayal: in 1982, digital sound and a compact
disk were admitted by publicists and a trusting press as “perfect
sound forever.” But any song partner could have told we that early
digital was mostly dreadful—hard, congealed, harsh, even razory, the
strings sounding like plastic, a trumpets like pointy instruments going
under your scalp. The early send of “Rubber Soul,” only to take one
example, was unlistenable.

The tiny though multiplying high-end attention responded to digital in
three conflicting ways: it assembled peppery critiques of digital sound
in a musically and technically lettered audiophile magazines The
Absolute Sound
and Stereophile; it grown CD players that worked
to filter out some of a digital artifacts; and it assembled dozens of
turntables, in any cost range, that kept good sound and the
long-playing record alive. Years ago, many refused to trust in a LP,
but, really, anyone with a decent setup could have valid this to you: a
well-recorded LP was warmer, some-more natural, some-more low-pitched than a compact

The recording attention woke up, as well: Sony and Phillips, that had
developed a compress front together, released, in 1999, a technology
called D.S.D. (Direct Stream Digital) and embedded a formula in Super
Audio CDs—S.A.C.D. disks. Remember them? Some 6 thousand titles were
produced, and a sound was unequivocally improved than that of a standard
CD. But a Super Audio CD was swamped by another marketing
phenomenon—the origination of a iPod and identical devices, in 2001, which
made immeasurable libraries of song portable. So many for S.A.C.D.s—your music
library was now in your hand! For me, a iPod was, for prolonged periods,
the default approach of listening to music. God knows we have sinned. we knew
that we wasn’t conference anything like a best.

Which brings us to profanation No. 3: song was streamed to iPods and
laptops by squeezing information so that it would fit by a Internet
pipes—the sound, in a jargon, was “lossy.” And that’s a sound—MP3
sound—that a era of immature people grew adult with. The essentials of
any kind of song came through, though nuance, a subtleties of shading
and color, got slighted or lost. High-end types, both manufacturers and
retailers, still lamentation this growth with fury and tears.
Availability was all for a iPod generation. Well, yes, of
, says a high end, accessibility is a good boon. But many of
the kids didn’t know that they were vacant anything in a music.

Except for a few who did. A flourishing corpus of immature song lovers have,
in new years, turn trustworthy to vinyl—demanding vinyl from their
favorite groups as they emanate new albums, flocking to new vinyl stores.
For some, it might be about a sound. Or maybe it’s about subsidy divided from
corporate enlightenment and salesmanship. Vinyl offers a joys of
possessorship: if we go to a store, speak to other song lovers, and
buy a record, we are committing to your taste, to your favorite group,
to your friends. In New York, a independent-music scene, and a kinds
of loyalties it creates, are executive to vinyl. In any case, a young
people shopping vinyl have assimilated adult with dual sets of people who never
really gave adult on it: a scratchmaster d.j.s deploying vinyl on twin
turntables, creation song with their hands, and a audiophiles hoarding
their LPs from decades ago. The audiophile reissue marketplace has come
blazingly to life: during such cordial warehouses as Acoustic Sounds,
MusicDirect, and Elusive Disc, we can buy thick LP reissues of albums,
at twenty-five to thirty-five dollars apiece, of jazz (Sonny Rollins),
classical (Fritz Reiner conducting “Scheherazade”), folk (Muddy
Waters), and cocktail (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” remastered). And
you can buy new LPs, as good as reissues, on Amazon.

A decent “high performance” turntable by VPI or Rega starts during about
eight hundred and fifty dollars. For twenty-two hundred dollars, we can
get a glorious VPI Prime Scout. For 4 thousand dollars, a superb
VPI Prime (cartridge extra), with a full-bodied sound. You can also
get something called a TechDAS Air Force One, done in Japan, which
weighs a hundred and seventy-four pounds and uses a opening siphon to clamp
the record to a platter. It costs a hundred and 5 thousand dollars.
I have not listened it. Those who have, including Michael Fremer,
Stereophile’s consultant in all things analog, contend that it is … unequivocally good.

There’s still another approach of removing decent sound: listening to music
through headphones, that creates clarity in tiny city apartments or with
warring partners, any preferring his or her possess music. Headphones are selling
like crazy during a moment; they’ve turn a core of consumer
cults—Web sites and review threads bristle with partisans of one
model or another. Some of a unequivocally costly ones, like a HIFIMAN X
V2 ($1,299) or a Audeze LCD-3 ($1,945—you review me right), sound unusual though are so elaborately assembled for a facsimile of sound that
they put a aria on your neck muscles.

Instead of shopping a turntable or a CD player, we can get a headphone
amp with a built-in digital-to-analog converter (D.A.C.). The simplest
version of this choice is AudioQuest’s Dragonfly Red ($198), that is
no bigger than a ride drive. You block it into your mechanism or
smartphone, follow a setup instructions, insert your headphones to the
back end, and afterwards play whatever we want. The Dragonfly’s sophisticated
little D.A.C. replaces a unsound D.A.C. in your computer, and a sound
of your files becomes better. For some-more appetite and larger use, try the
extraordinarily versatile Mytek Brooklyn ($1,995), that combines, in a
single tiny box, a pre-amp, a phono stage, a headphone amp, and a
D.A.C. that receives updates, around a Internet, of a latest
developments in high-resolution streaming. This tiny box could be the
center of a headphone system—or a core of a full-blown high-end
system with a CD actor or a record actor and speakers.

I have churned feelings about listening on headphones. The idea of
high-end audio is to imitate a sound of song in a recording
space—a space that we try to re-create in your vital room, or study,
or wherever; in any case, in a room with 4 walls and building and
furnishings. The complement reveals that a winds are there, a brass
there, a drum there, and your room, providing preserve and
resonance, creates music, too. But headphone listening is an interior
drama, in that mental space replaces earthy space, and appetite creates a
direct sense on your eardrums—the sound is infrequently overwhelming,
but not as spatially convincing. For me it’s a resource, not a solution.

In my wanderings, we encountered some products by a French company
Devialet, that has caused a mini-sensation recently, with its
extraordinarily chic-looking amplifiers—flat, block boxes, no some-more than
an in. high, with a tip of radiant brushed steel. You control the
equipment with a block remote that has a vast volume doorknob and four
little buttons. we have not listened a amplifiers, though a apparatus has
been praised by arguable people for a virginity of a sound. What we did
hear, in a small, glass-enclosed salon in a center of the
Time-Warner Center, were Devialet’s Gold Phantom powered speakers
($2,990), that demeanour like a unconventional white football helmet extended
at a rear. The Phantoms could be called upscale versions of the
popular Sonos powered speakers. You block them in, and run them
wirelessly from your dungeon phone or iPad, sketch on streaming services.
Frank Sinatra’s voice in “Come Fly with Me” sounded O.K., though the
plucked drum annals in a accompaniment widespread all over a room,
leading me to trust that a Phantoms could not be a high-end speaker.
The Devialet amplifiers are serious, though a Phantoms are a “life style”
product, which, in a lofty dictionary of high end, can't be construed
as a compliment.

Where was greatness? we visited a princely Lyric HiFi, at
Eighty-second and Lexington, and listened a many improved display of
voice—the soulful jazz thespian Johnny Hartman singing “For All We Know”
from his 1981 album, “Once in Every Life.” Hartman’s voice has an
enormous range—from a snarl to an easy, free-floating top, all assembled at
moderate volume (he’s a conflicting of a belter)—and a complement set adult at
Lyric matched Hartman’s voice in suavity. The wiring were by the
ace Canadian solid-state association Simaudio—the product line’s full title
is Moon by Simaudio. (One of a attracts of a high finish is a poetic
oddity of a names—for example, a glorious DeVore Fidelity Orangutan
O/96 speakers.) We listened to a Moon 340i integrated amplifier, with
its built-in phono theatre and D.A.C. ($5,800). The turntable was the
Rega RP8 ($2,995), with a Denon DL-103 cartridge); a CD actor was
also by Moon (260 CD, $3,000), and a speakers were a marvellous
Wilson Sabrina ($14,999 a pair)—a much-loved floor-standing design,
about dual years old, not too vast (thirty-eight inches high), and velvety

The setup’s sum cost is about thirty thousand dollars, and one of its
virtues, as Lyric says, is that it was “a New York system”—meaning that
the Moon integrated amp, replacing apart boxes, is compact, and well
suited for apartments. What we listened was a upsurge of awake and beautiful
sound, from tip to bottom. The “March to a Scaffold” transformation from
Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” during a extensive climax, had weight
and depth, though it wasn’t assaultive or hi-fi-ish in a derogatory
sense; it was music—a vast band (the Cincinnati Symphony) in a big

In general, we am questionable of vast systems, with their mixed amps,
their cobra-size cables. They can be fractious and unstable, and they
require too many work to maintain—not to discuss a residence in a country,
where we can play them during sufficient volume to uncover off what they can
do. Yet a vast complement we listened during Innovative Audio, in a elegant
underground intricacy during 150 East Fifty-eighth Street, seemed rock
steady, and it sounded great.

The annals were played on a Linn Sondek LP12, a strange chronicle of
which was combined some forty years ago, in Scotland. An operative named
Ivor Tiefenbrun licked a technology’s simple problems (speed stability,
freedom from cranky signals) and finished a misinterpretation that all turntables sounded alike. It was one of a foundational moments of high end. In
Tiefenbrun’s wake, dozens of manufacturers brought out their own
designs. The Linn, many times updated and upheld with add-ons, costs
about 10 thousand dollars, including a cartridge, in a chronicle I
heard; it was assimilated as a source by a Linn Uphoric phono stage
($2,990), and afterwards by top-of-the-line Spectral electronics—the Spectral
SDR4000 SV CD Player ($20,000) and a DMC-30 pre-amp ($14,000) and
DMA-400 monoblocks (one amplifier for any channel, during $30,000 a pair),
all of this fed by Spectral/MIT audio cables ($12,000) into the
Avalon Acoustic’s Compás ($37,000) loudspeakers, a massive floor-standing
model that slopes behind during a tip in an abruptly pleasing architectural
motif suggestive of Aztec pyramids. The cost of all this landed
somewhere north of a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.

Spectral is a forty-year-old solid-state association formed in Northern
California, and a simple designs were combined by a recording engineer
Keith O. Johnson, whose over-all idea was to furnish an contentment of
musical information though burdensome a listener with etched detail.
In a Innovative setup, a orchestral song seemed as a margin of
sound, a disentangled strands of violins, winds, and coronet precisely
arrayed in space; Keith Jarrett’s piano (in his “Still Live” LP) appears
in poetic discourse with Jack DeJohnette’s drums and Gary Peacock’s
bass, a sprung annals tangible and singing, not widespread out and spongy.
In good orchestral recordings, a strings had a hold of feather, the
woodwinds were corpulent and simply discernible one from another, the
brass soul-stirring. we had landed in a good place.

What’s better, a good LP or high-resolution streaming? Sometimes we can
tell a difference, infrequently not, that says a lot for high-res, since
analog stays a standard. Those good-sounding D.S.D. recordings
formerly embedded in S.A.C.D.s can now be sent by a Internet (by
Acoustic Sounds, Tidal, and other services) to a song server equipped
to accept them—with a Mytek Brooklyn, for instance, or with the
deluxe Aurender A10 ($5,500). You can’t, during a moment, listen to
high-res on your iPhone, though assistance might be on a way, for there’s still
another, recently grown high-resolution digital format that has
possibly insubordinate consequences. It’s called MQA, that stands for
Master Quality Authenticated. The engineers go behind to a master tapes
of a given recording and recode a information digitally in a new way:
the information is dense (as with MP3s) to get it by the
Internet, though afterwards magically reopened, like a margin of flowers after
rain, by a server during a receiving end. In addition, a information is
stripped of certain common digital artifacts—it’s de-blurred. Jay-Z’s
streaming service, Tidal, offers MQA recordings—some classical, many R.  B. and soul, Latin, and all else, including (surprise) Beyoncé.
In MQA streaming, on a good system, a lady is there, right in front
of you.

At Sound by Singer, during 242 East Twenty-seventh Street, we listened a
relatively medium complement ($22,000) delivering a products by MQA and
other streaming formats, tranquil by an iPad and using by the
Aurender A10 and a (Italian) Norma Revo 140 IPA Integrated amp
($8,000), and finale with a robust and fatigue-free span of speakers,
the Endeavor E-3 MkII ($8,000), that are a best-sounding speakers
I’ve listened in that cost range. But all of this is presumably only the
beginning of a MQA bounty. The vital record labels have concluded to
allow their master tapes to be re-coded. And a founders of MQA—don’t
ask me to explain this—claim that a new codec could be practical to
old recordings, that could afterwards be streamed or downloaded to portable
devices given to accept MQA. In other words, not only great
availability though unusual sound could be lodged in your hand.

A bourgeois Odysseus lured by electronic Sirens, we had done a journey,
and we was now returning home. At Adirondack, over on East Fifty-seventh
Street, a complement we had listened dual weeks progressing during a New York Audio
Show was adult and running. Present during a arise was my comparison son, Max,
thirty-four, who pronounced that he had never listened so many fact in recorded
music, and Michael Fremer, one of Stereophile’s distinguished
equipment reviewers and a male who, as many as anyone, has kept analog
sound alive in a past integrate of decades. Fremer is assertive, funny, and
extremely associating about music, as good as equipment, and his opinions are
eagerly sought after. we was sitting centrally, in a honeyed spot—about
fifteen feet from a speakers, during a peak of an hypothetical triangle—and
Fremer positioned himself low, right behind me. It was not a comfortable
way to listen, of course, but, in a quasi-experimental conditions, it
was essential.

We were listening to apart components done by Luxman, that has been
making peculiarity audio components given 1925—in this case, a PD 171A
turntable ($6,995), with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge
($2,400); and afterwards a plain state D-08u CD actor ($14,995), the
much-lauded tubed EQ 500 phono theatre ($6,495), a plain state C-900u
pre-amplifier ($8,995), and a M-900u solid-state amplifier
($14,995). All of this was feeding a Triangle Magellan Quatuor
speakers ($19,000), done in France, a tall, floor-standing indication with
no fewer than 3 woofers (covering a reduce octaves). The sound this
produced could not be described as lush, though it was full, to my ears
very accurate, with tuneful, parsimonious drum and open highs, and the spatial
clarity was extraordinary. In a original-cast album, from 1958, of
Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” (recently reissued on LP by
Columbia), we could hear a violins on a left, a bongos on the
right, a xylophones in between, with a lot of atmosphere around each
instrumental group. Staring during a vacant space between a speakers, I
thought we could see dancers in groups charging from one side to the
other. The apparition of low-pitched instruments and voices has been completed
by a apparition of motion.

The backgrounds were definitely still in Johnny Hartman’s “For Once in
Every Life” album, a wail noodling behind Hartman, a sax stealing
in over his left shoulder. What comes by in so many small
jazz-ensemble recordings (Wes Montgomery’s reissued “Full House” LP is
one of a good ones) is how closely a musicians know one
another. In a Luxman/Triangle system, large-scale song came out well,
too—in André Previn’s opening of Shostakovich’s inhuman Eighth
Symphony, a London Symphony’s strings had punch though coarseness, and
the brass-and-timpani explosions in a frightening third transformation were
enough to stop one’s heart.

“Sweet system,” Fremer muttered behind me. But afterwards he grew dissatisfied
with a cables using to a speakers—very costly cables, done by
Nordost—and he asked for a change. Jason Tavares, who runs Adirondack,
plugged in a many reduction costly pair, a Kimber Kable 12TC ($360),
and darned if a sound wasn’t better—the drum lines clearer, a air
around a solo instruments cleaner. “Case closed!” Fremer announced
from behind my ear. “That ends that argument.”

Everything matters. The sound was improved with conflicting cables. And, a
few mins later, Jeff and Jason unplugged a C-900u solid-state
amplifier and replaced Luxman’s flagship MQ-300 tube amplifier
($20,995). Immediately, Max sat adult and said, “It sounds sweeter,”
which was what we heard, too. There was larger freshness and warmth. In
“Mood Indigo,” from a greatest Duke Ellington manuscript “Ellington’s
Masterpiece,” accessible (in mono) in 1950, a consistent of a horns at
very soothing volume assembled one of a many pleasing low-pitched sounds I
have ever heard.

The whole complement now cost north of eighty thousand dollars. we couldn’t
buy it, though we was happy. we had listened something; a lot of things,
actually. All this fussing creates a difference. You might not be means to
afford it, but, if we can hear it, and it matters to we musically, then
it matters emotionally, too. High-end audio is a luxury-class pursuit,
but it’s not a fake, and it has many pleasures, if your ears are open to
receiving them.

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