Yesterday’s post hit a nerve for a few readers. I can imagine their concerns; “maybe my setup doesn’t measure up” to real hi-res standards. A couple of you sent in lists of your equipment (thanks to one that included links to the product pages so that I could quickly scan the specs) and asked if your rig was up to the task. The answer is simple…if you enjoy the sound of the music played back through your system in your environment then don’t worry about whether your setup meets the requirements of hi-res audio. There are very, very few recordings that deliver fidelity that eclipses that of a compact disc.
In reality, the equipment that I have in my studio and house don’t measure up either. However, I’m able to mix and master my AIX Records titles and other projects without any concerns over quality. I have a Bryston 9B power amplifier (I also have a 4B stereo amp from Bryston that has been on for 20 years and has performed flawlessly). Are there better amplifiers out there? Absolutely. But when I was selecting the equipment I wanted to have in my room back in 1989, the criteria included reliability as well as the sound. The amp doesn’t exceed 20 kHz but keeps the noise levels very low.
The Bryston drives my 5 B&W 801 Series III speakers. These are old speakers…but have been part of my professional life for many years. They aren’t the new JBL M2 studio reference monitors or the Revel Salon 2 that we had in Chicago at the AXPONA show, but they deliver really great sound. Would I love to upgrade to the M2s or the Salon 2s? Sure, but I can’t afford it.
The simplest way to experience real high-resolution audio (assuming you’re playing back one of my own productions and not a hi-res transfer) is using a file player running on a computer to an external DAC with a great headphone amplifier and a great set of phones. I’m not a real fan of headphones…I don’t listen to music through phones except when I’m on a plane. But I would put my Mac Laptop running Amarra, to a Benchmark DAC 2 HGC (connected with a good USB cable…avoid the esoteric, expensive digital cables!), and then plug in a set of Grados as a viable hi-res system. Sony and Oppo make headphones that meet the high-res audio specs but I’m partial to Grado phones.
If you’re like me and prefer to have your sound reproduced through amplification and speakers, you’re going to spend more money. I’ve set up dozens of superb quality “high-resolution” audio system at trade shows and other venues. I’ve had systems with B&W 800Ds (yes, I had 5 of them in Florida years ago driven by Boulder Power), Thiel CS3.7s, German Physiks Emperors, and a very nice sounding system with Piega speakers a few years ago, but the best overall integrated system was the last one that I assembled with the help of Benchmark and Revel. Some of you got the chance to hear it.
I made a pretty big deal about the system we put together in a few posts from last April. My friends at Oppo supplied a modified output board so we could connect a full 5.1 channels at 96 kHz/24-bit PCM audio via three S/P DIF to three DAC2 HGCs. We used DH Labs cables. The balanced outputs of the Benchmark DACs were sent to the inputs of 5 monobridged AHB2 power amps and then to 5 Revel Salon 2 speakers. As far as I’m concerned this was the first and only system that I’ve put together that had the potential to reproduce my recordings without any weak links or compromises. We had dynamic range past 130 dB, frequency response to 40 kHz, and jitter free PCM audio through 5 speakers and two subs.
It’s true that the acoustic environment was severely compromised compared to my studio or a nicely balance listening room, but we did something that no other demo room has every accomplished and it sounded amazing.
Of course, there are lots of other ways to get there. But at the end of the day, the gear is secondary to the production of the music. I’m a music guy…if it isn’t on the tracks then it isn’t going to get played back.