My audiophile journey essentially began in 1972 when I was fifteen years old and by 1973 was the incredibly proud owner of an admittedly modest entry level system. I found myself indelibly and irrevocably hooked on high performance audio and from then to now, that condition still exists.
In 2010, my audio situation had become unfortunately distressed. My beloved, older system at the time was dying and I decided it was time to build the system I had dreamed about since my days as a fifteen year old.
And so it began. A journey of discovery. A journey to discover a sound. I was not imbued with the knowledge of how that sound should sound, only that I’d know it when heard. Like a conductor in a symphony when the notes meld together, I’d know. Little did I envision taking eight years to enable the notes of this discovery to make themselves heard.
It began with a eminently respectable system headlined by a McIntosh MA6600 integrated amp, Peachtree Audio Dacit, Apple Mac Mini (as a server), Vandersteen 2Ce Signature II speakers, Transparent cabling and a VPI Classic 2 turntable. By any admission it was the finest collection of audio components I had ever owned. Something, however, was still lacking – that sound.
As my journey continued, year after year, component after component, cable after cable, each iteration better in sonic capability and commensurately higher in cost, I moved closer to my goal. Shrouded in the absence of knowledge on my part, I was resolute in the conviction I would know the sound when played. After eight years, multiple components, two different homes, countless hours of listening, tinkering with speaker positioning, a tweak here, something more arcane there, I moved ever closer to my goal, that indefinable sound defined.
There are so many factors that must jell in order to hear nirvana in an audio system. For each of us, that elusive goal is somehow different. Tempered by a variety of factors, available funds being chief among them, we all have a different idea of our own personal level of sonic excellence. There is no one, perfect, idyllic sound no more than there is one perfect song. We each have our own definition and when its right, we know.
I discovered early on after moving into my new home in December 2016 that my “sound” would remain hidden unless I employed room treatments. My beloved audio room, or in real estate parlance the “bonus room,” simply had too many issues – standing waves, null points, and, heading the list of sonic challenges, two alcoves – diametrically opposite each other on each long wall that served primarily as dormers. Because my system’s componentry was essentially at an acceptable level, my mantra became tinkering with the little things. I began enlisting the use of anti-vibration devices like Stillpoints and Symposium platforms, all of which dramatically lowered the noise floor, thus revealing better transient detail. Next came system grounding and shunning the idea of a dedicated ground rod, I brought in a Nordost Qk6 and grounded each of my primary components as well as the primary Nordost Qb8 power strip. Once again, lower noise floor, better detail. Still, I wasn’t quite there.
In the Daniel Powter song, “Song 6,” at the 45 second mark, there is a very low bass sound, somewhere in the 50 to 70Hz range. In my previous residence it was well defined and powerful. Yet in my new home, purchased primarily because of an “audio room,” nothing. Nada. Zilch. Only a “sucking air” sound. This is known by its more illustrative name, “bass suck out.” While this condition bothered me, I only really noticed it on “Song 6.” To my ears, everything else sounded spectacular. Something, however, kept gnawing at me, that little voice telling me “if this one problem existed, what others are there you don’t know about?” It became abundantly clear my journey was not yet complete. I still had sonic issues yet to solve.
Those stupid alcoves. While I did have floor standing absorption / reflection panels covering about 60% of the space, I was reluctant to cover each alcove opening completely because of two things – an HVAC duct and a window in each one. I had to heat and cool the room and blocking the vents would negate that. Finally, after a casual conversation with some friends at Nordost, I did purchase a third, custom sized floor standing panel for each alcove that I equipped with handles. So when I’m not listening to music, I can simply move the third panel into the back of each alcove to facilitate the HVAC process. Now each alcove is about 90% treated / covered. And suddenly, this past February, laid gloriously bare, was my sound. I finally slayed the dragon.
I believe my system finally has the perfect synergy of components, cables, room treatments and speaker position. I have made significant use of anti-vibration and grounding devices to surprising results. Over sixty acoustic panels on all four walls and the ceiling of my audio room. I’m astounded by what I hear. I have no desire to change a component, cable or even move the speakers one millimeter. Hate though I do to admit, I suppose my eight year odyssey is over. And I have no idea what to do now. Are there no more dragons left to slay?
Of course, obviously, sit back and enjoy the system. Relish what I hear, not what I have done. Somehow, surprisingly, that isn’t completely fulfilling. I cannot help but wonder if I have become so accustomed to not being content I am only satisfied when I’m sonically dissatisfied. I’m not sure. For now, I suppose the logical move is to actually relax and enjoy, be content the journey of discovery is at long last complete. However, there are those mono blocks I’ve been eyeing…