HI-FI AUDIO: THE JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND LEAGUES
Music is the Single Most Evocative Art Form that I have encountered,
and my Greatest Passion, so I am very demanding about how pursue it. As
a result, I can't help being an audiophile. I've known passionate music-lovers
who would be perfectly content listening to their music on a hand-held
transistor radio; for them, music seems to inspire more of a mental, almost
intellectual appreciation. For me, on the other hand, music is much more
of an emotional and atmospheric thing, an encompassing, overwhelming transport
that I seek to lose myself in completely. The better the music sounds,
the more effective it is in bearing me away. So it is that I never cease
searching for what I call the Perfect Rendition--that is, the ultimate
experience of each of the pieces of music that I love so well.
The quest for the Perfect Rendition has perforce made me a hardware enthusiast
and a Tweak. I subscribe to Stereophile Magazine, in which I read about
hi-fi equipment that costs more than my entire net worth. I've learned
a bit about the specs and what they really mean, and I judge equipment
by a combination of those specs and my own subjective ideal.
At present, my (alas, most humble) equipment consists of the following:
- One Arcam Alpha 9 CD Player (Stereophile Class B).
This is a truly phenomenal piece of equipment, my most recent
purchase and probably my best piece to date. I had previously used
a crappy Panasonic portable CD player to feed the equipment below,
thinking that all CD players were created equal. When I found that
I couldn't stand the sound quality any longer, I suspected the speakers.
I later patched my friend DJ Nihil's Denon DN-2500 F CD mixing deck
into the system for a party, and noticed a substantial improvement
in sound clarity and definition. This opened my eyes to the dramatic
impact that a CD player can have on the sound of a hi-fi system, and
decided me on my next upgrade. The very complimentary review of Arcam's
Alpha 9 in Stereophile Magazine convinced me to give the model a try,
and after an extended, wine-swilling Friday night audition in my listening
room, I decided that I couldn't live without it.
- One Carver Classic Tube Preamplifier.
I really don't have much to say about this component. It's
nice enough, I suppose, and the warm, golden light shining through
the window in the front that shows off the tubes is a nice atmospheric
touch. I really don't have much experience with preamplifiers, though,
so I can't give an opinion concerning its quality. Basically, if it's
holding me back at all at this point, I doubt that it's by much.
- Four Marantz MA-700 Monoblock Amplifiers (Stereophile
These 200-watt mono amplifiers are rated Class C by Stereophile,
but I have four of 'em, by God, which should help things a bit, I
think. I currently have them bi-amplifying the BP-30 speakers--that
is, each speaker is powered by two amplifiers, one for the high and
midrange frequencies, and one for the midbass and low frequencies.
Incidentally, I would strongly recommend that anyone who is serious
about sound quality give serious consideration to bi-amplification,
for in my experience it has an immediate and very positive effect
on the output of any pair of speakers. As such, I'm fairly satisfied
with the paired MA-700's, and I'll wager that in this configuration
they would compare with some amplifiers in the Class B range.
- One pair of Definitive Technologies BP-30 Speakers.
These are bi-polar speakers, having identical d'Appolito
arrays of two 6" full-range and one tweeter firing front and rear.
The bi-polar configuration gives these speakers a very broad soundstage--that
is, they are not limited by a small, precisely focused soundstage,
but rather sound tolerable from a broad range of listening positions.
I fell out of love with the BP-30's relatively quickly, finding them
weak on both the high and low ends of the sonic spectrum. Bi-amplification
has roused them to much greater depth and definition, though, such
that I think that I'll be able to put up with them for a while longer.
- One Optimus SW-120 Subwoofer.
I don't really have a great deal to say about this component,
either. It's a basic 12", 120-watt powered subwoofer, with adjustable
volume and crossover controls. It capably renders frequencies from
about 80 Hz to perhaps as low as 30 Hz, and it can do so at a fair
volume--I can make the CD player skip with it, if that says anything.
It's not a bad performer for its $400.00 price, but it's nowhere near
as precise as I'd prefer; the sound seems sluggish and muddy, and
it tends to boom more than I care to put up with. As such, I'll be
replacing it at some point. I have made a few modifications to it
to extend its life, though. I got sick of having to walk across my
listening room to adjust the volume and crossover levels, so I pulled
the amplifier out of the back of the box, stuffed the box with poly-fill,
and cut a cover of 3/4" MDF to cover the hole where the amplifier
was. So it is that the subwoofer amplifier now sits near my right
hand, easily adjustable as I please.
Of course, Hi-Fi audio is indeed a Journey of a Thousand Leagues, for
though I have spent a fair amount of money to assemble the collection
of equipment listed above, I have not yet begun to fight.