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Beatnik’s Things To Live Without and Vice Versa

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The year is almost over and it’s dawned on me that next year will be my fifth year with Dagogo. When I decided to write the ‘Beatnik’s Journey” it was my desire to share two things with you: the memories I have of a life as an audiophile (40 years now, the obsession started when I was 15), and what I was learning from being a reviewer. With this in mind, I want to take the December column as an opportunity to share with you what I have learned about myself as an audiophile over the last four year. If you haven’t read my October 2009 Beatnik article “Two Dilemmas from the Rocky Mountains”, I suggest a quick read as it also tries to give some insight into this as well.

The first thing I want to share with you is that I have learned what virtues an audio system needs for the music to sound like real music to me. Since I grew up down South, I’ll start by telling you two things I can live without in an audio system:

Bass below 30 kHz. It’s nice but it creates more problems for me than I want to fool with. Low bass requires more amplifier power, it makes speaker placement and room setup much more difficult, and most of all it makes my wife come down stairs, and say turn that stuff down it’s shaking the whole house.

Spectacular soundstaging. I spent many years trying to get my system image outside the speakers, and have depth that would go way back behind the speakers. Yet, the more I listen to live music, which is more than once a week, the more I have decided that the typical audiophile soundstage distracts me from the music itself. I find a coherent soundstage with good scale much more important.

What I do value is transparency, aliveness, and “Pace, Rhythm, and Timing”. I highly value what I call the “scary real” way Western Electric 300Bs reproduce voices. I also have come to really value speakers that add no warmth of their own, but when it’s there on the recording can reproduce it beautifully. I also value a system’s ability to let the treble sound really pretty. Most of all, the system has to be very listenable. Learning these things has also helped me understand why I like certain equipment and certain ways of reproducing music.

The second thing I have learned is that vinyl is the medium that best allows me to enjoy music. It’s not that I don’t enjoy digital music, I do very much. I have a system upstairs that is digital only. I listen to it when I cook, when I want to hear songs that I don’t have on vinyl, and I often listen to it when other are over and I don’t want to fool with changing records. Still, when I sit down to listen to music I find vinyl much more satisfying and convincing.

Even with vinyl, I have to look for the equipment that can give me the qualities I have mentioned above. So far I have found turntables with magnetic bearings, and low output, low impedance moving coil cartridges, played through a high quality and closely matched step-up transformer produce the sound I enjoy more than any other combination I have tried.

The third thing I have learned is in regard to amplification. After four years I still prefer the sound of the early Wavac 300B stereo amps using Western Electric tubes. Combined with a Shindo preamp they produce a uniquely alive sound. I now use a Shindo Masseto, but even their entry-level Aurieges with its own phono stage is an incredibly lifelike preamp. I should mention that I still have not had a chance to listen to the Shindo 300B amps in my system and would love to.

Over the last four years I have had the privilege to hear some truly great amps and preamps. As I have talked about in the “Two Dilemmas from the Rocky Mountains” Beatnik article, in many systems, these other great amps and preamps may simply be better. For other audiophiles they may simple prefer the sound because they have different priorities than I do.

While I’m kind of surprised that I’ve stayed with Wavac and Shindo for five years now, it has been a very different story with speakers. Except for the eight years that I lived with Quad 57s, all the speakers I’ve owned have been two-ways. Some of those two-ways have been exceptional. The Audio Note Es are speakers I surely could live with and be very happy, but along came the Ikonoklast Model 3HO, a great little crossover-less speaker. Then came the chance to hear the Teresonic speakers that use the British Lowther drivers. These two speakers set new standards for me in regard to transparency and PRaT.

Turns out that the combination the equipment mention in the above paragraphs comes closest so far to giving me the sound I love to listen to most.

The last big thing I’ve learned over the last four years happened in the past twelve months. I have had an opportunity to review some of the newest and best power conditioners on the market. Without a doubt, the new Audience Adept Response T series with the Aura Teflon caps and the Synergistic Research Powercell both set new standards for power conditioning. I have used power conditioning for years but I never dreamed the improvement that these two products made was even possible. In my system the Audience unit with their newest Au24 powerChords just brings all the things I like in my system to a whole new level.

Well I’ll get back with you after the fifth year with Dagogo and let you know if I’ve learned anything else. Until then just keep on boppin’.

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