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Jack Roberts Shares His Listening and Equipment Biases

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Jack Roberts Beatnik's Journey

Listening Biases

If you have been following my writings on Dagogo you have a good idea what my listening and equipment biases are. Still I think it would be worth my time and yours to talk about these biases. Let’s start with listening biases. The most important thing for me in an audio system is how alive it sounds. If it doesn’t make me feel like the musicians and the vocals are alive, I get bored with it. I’m willing to forgive a lack of the deepest bass, the utmost in soundstaging and imaging if it makes me feel like the performance is alive.

I also fall into the small group of audiophile who think PRaT varies not only by the performance, but the equipment it is played on. Truth is if an audiophile system can’t get the Pace, Rhythm, and Timing of music right, it just does not sound alive. I feel that the biggest difference in live music and recorded music is found in these three things, and this is why we can often tell the difference between live and recorded music even when it’s being played through a soundboard, amps, and speakers. To accomplish this requires a system with real dynamics and especially micro-dynamics.

That wierd feeling leads us to the next thing I’m looking from in an audio system, emotional involvement! If you get your system to sound alive then it should move you emotionally. When I attend a really good live musical event I am moved emotionally. In fact, if it doesn’t move me emotionally I don’t consider it even a good performance, much less a great one.

To be emotionally involving your system has to do more than sound alive. It has to allow the music to flow and allow you to hear the layers of musical nuances of the performance. Likewise to be emotionally involving an audio system has to get the reproduction of the timbre, textures, colors, and tones of the music right. When I’m listening to a recording I want it to have a life-like wholeness and connectedness between the performers like I hear at a live event.

It seems popular right now for audiophiles who share most of my listening biases to say things like transparency, soundstage, and imaging aren’t that important. I need to admit right now that I am willing to forgive slight failings in a system’s ability to produce the widest and deepest soundstage or its ability to have pinpoint imaging. Truth is pinpoint imaging to an extreme seems unnatural and distracting to me, but I also must confess that I highly value transparency. To me transparency combined with immediacy, and air around and within instruments are some of the key factors to a system sounding alive.

Equipment Biases

My listening biases lead directly to my equipment biases. I openly admit that my equipment biases fall into a fairly small minority of audiophiles. I have built my system around an amplifier that gives me more of what I’m listening for in an audio system than any one piece of audio gear I know of; the Wavac EC300B, with Western Electric 300B power tubes, Western Electric 435A front end tubes, and NOS Sylvania 6L6GC driver tubes.

If you have never heard this amp you need to understand that this doesn’t mean I have a bias toward most 300B amps; I don’t. I find most 300B amps to be too warm, too slow in the bass, and limited in the top end. The Wavac EC 300B is like a Ferrari while most other 300Bs I have heard being more like a Bentley. I should point out that the Allnic 300Bs come closest to this sound of any other 300B amps I have heard while the Audio Note and Shindo amps come somewhere between the speed and handling of the Ferrari and the luxurious ride of the Bentley. By the way the amp I have heard that sounds the most like the Wavac EC300B is the First Watt SIT-1 mono blocks. These are transistor amps, but they are also single ended, no feedback designs.

When it comes to sources, I have a huge bias toward vinyl. I do not have a digital source in my reference system. I freely admit that reel to reel tapes are as good and often a little bit better than vinyl, but there is just not enough music available for me to be interested, especially at what the cost is at this time.

When it comes to speakers, I’ve striven for years to find a speaker that had a midrange like my Quad 57s, but with more dynamics, less beaming, and ability to play much louder. It is also true that Quad 57s don’t match well with a SET amp so I have not gone back to them. Instead I have discovered that I like really well executed single driver speakers and a few two way speakers. I also have a bias toward speakers whose cabinets are not overly dead.

Low efficiency, low impedance, multi-driver speakers with dead cabinets just never quite come to life to me. I know all the arguments for them and I have heard them with tons and tons of power. I will admit that the arguments for dead cabinets even seem logical. Still, it seems to me that they have to fight to get music out and only come close to sound alive at really loud volumes.

Let me close by admitting to two other equipment biases I have. They are simple: I do believe that cables make a difference; I also believe that power corrupts. On that last point while I have used and found very helpful active power conditioners, I have come to believe that some of the very best, and admittedly very expensive passive devices are even better.

Well, what was the point in all this? I hope it was to help you understand me and to understand yourself better. We all have biases of all types. I have one friend who dearly loves the sound of large panel speakers, and I really enjoy listening with him. I have another friend who has a wonderful system centered around Wilson Audio Speakers. While neither of these systems would be my personal choice, I have no trouble understanding their appeal, no feeling that my bias is more correct, and most of all no trouble describing to you what each of them sound like.

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11 Responses to Jack Roberts Shares His Listening and Equipment Biases


  1. Very well said, Jack!

  2. John Krause says:

    Well you have left us dangling.What single driver speakers do you like? Thank you.

  3. tubefan says:

    Hi Jack,
    Excellent piece! In your years of listening, which DACs and which preamps have stood out as having THE MOST romantic, liquid, lush, smooth, rich, warm, thick sound?

  4. Rob Bertrando says:

    A little inconsistency in the paragraph on PRaT; you say a system has to have good dynamics, especially micro-dynamics, to sound live. I’m probably missing something, but what does that have to do with PRaT?

  5. Jack Roberts says:

    Well, John I like Tresonics, the two newer Voxativ, and the Feastrex Makoto.

  6. Jack Roberts says:

    Rob, romantic, liquid, lush, smooth, rich, warm, thick sound is not what I listen for, but aliveness. Still my favorite DACs have been from Audio Note and now some of the new DSD units.

  7. Jack Roberts says:

    Rob, to me it seem that without good dynamics and especially micro-dynamics a system just doesn’t have good Pace, Rhythm, and Timing.

  8. Jay Valancy says:

    As usual, Jack hits all the right notes: it’s the emotion. The rest is just sprinkles.

  9. Tops says:

    Jack,
    I have replaced by WE435A with the NEC 6RR21, the sound is way out! The NEC is as rare as hen’s teeth, when it surfaces (Usually in Japan), it is fairly cheap.

  10. Mike says:

    Thank you Jack.

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