Written by 4:26 am Audiophile

Fumbling Towards Audio Bliss

The first of a series where Andy Schaub guides a music lover to great sound…

I have a friend named Joe. He loves progressive jazz, the sort that you find on the Atlantic and ECM labels. He also likes good sound and always marvels over my six-figure Transrotor, Ayre, Audio Note, Woo Audio, and Stax system; but he’s not an audiophile and doesn’t want to spend too much money on his own high-fidelity system. 

AR-Schaub-Title-2-Small.pngStill, Joe says he’s tired of the limited fidelity he gets from the MP3 and AAC files on his iPhone 7, because he knows that they use “lossy compression”, that essential musical information has gotten discarded. Plus, he doesn’t want to repurchase ALL his albums yet again … 

I say, “You know, Joe. You have a sound-quality dilemma. The solution depends. First, these days, a lot of people don’t buy music anymore. They ‘stream’ a lot through services like Spotify, TuneIn Radio, and–most notably–TIDAL, particularly TIDAL Hi-Fi, assuming they have an active Wi-Fi or 4G LTE connection.” 

“You see”, I continue, “For about $20.00 per month in the US, you can have 24/7 access to a very large, very well-curated library of music in many genres–jazz, classical, rock, almost everything–with the same sound quality you would get from a CD, not sound like get from an MP3 download; and you don’t have to buy the music permanently unless you really like it and want to keep it.” 

Joe uses an iPhone 7, so I point him to the Apple App Store and search for the TIDAL App. He downloads it for free, launches it, creates an account with his email address and a password, and enters some credit card information for the $20.00 monthly fee. 

AR-AudioBliss115a.jpegJoe then launches the TIDAL App. He sees a Beyoncé album immediately and he looks a little confused. I pat him on the shoulder and say, “Don’t worry. There’s a lot more music if you just poke around a little. Who’s your favorite artist?” “Keith Jarret …” he replies, “… of course.” I smile and say, “Great. Mine, too! You see the little magnifying glass icon and the word ‘Search’? Try starting there …” 

Joe puts on his Bluetooth headphones (a pair of wireless, noise-cancelling, Sennheiser Momentum headphones that I recommended to him, fully-charged), goes to the search bar and types the name, “Keith Jarrett”. 

An artist page for Keith Jarrett displays in the TIDAL App along with a few albums. Joe sees an old favorite that he already owns, Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett on the Atlantic label. I point to the “Play” icon for that album in the App. He touches that “Play” icon with his right index finger and rolls his eyes a little, eager with anticipation. A moment passes, then he smiles. He shouts, very loudly, “This sounds terrific!” 

I pull the Momentums away from his ears and say, “You’re wearing headphones, my friend. No need to raise your voice. ” He puts the Momentums back on and clearly loses himself in the jazz. 

AR-Schaub-Red-Cart-Small.pngIn the meantime, I’m eagerly anticipating Joe’s next question, knowing that he owned this same album on a vinyl LP, then a CD, then as a download from the iTunes Store, which he always admitted sounded, “Kind of thin, and pumping up the bass doesn’t help,” he has commented in the past. 

After the first track ends, Joe takes off his headphones. “Andy, that sounded great. What if I want to play it out loud, or what if I don’t have a Wi-Fi or 4G LTE connection?” I take off my own headphones, a pair of passive Beyerdynamic T5p’s, running through an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red plugged into my own iPhone X via a USB-to-Lightning adapter. 

I think of my own Ayre QX- Twenty “digital hub” connected via audiophile-quality Ethernet cables to my LAN with a Melco N1A audiophile-quality NAS (plus a turntable and tonearm with a moving-coil phonograph cartridge and step-up transformer plus phonostage) all running into my amplifier through even more “black and silver shiny boxes”–to quote an old girlfriend–with five-foot tall, piano-lacquer-finish Makassar wood loudspeakers. 

I smile again and say, “Joe, you know, you just asked about ‘audio bliss’. I can actually help you find an answer to that question for about the same as the down payment on your late model Prius.” 

Joe grins again. We begin our journey together.

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