". . . seizing and incorporating . . . There is nothing about us which is more strongly primitive."Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power
I am a collector. Books, records, art, music, knickknacks, old blurry anonymous photos, and morehanging, sitting, standing, and shelved, they surround me where I sit and follow me around our home. In collecting, less is certainly not more, and I believe that part of its appeal is that our collections help define not only who we are but who we'd like to becomeor, perhaps, how things are and how we'd like them to be.
Do you travel? Commute, perhaps? Just like to listen to music privately around the house? No matterthe Astell&Kern AK240 is the luxury choice in high-resolution portable music players (footnote 1). It even comes with a lovely leather case that beautifully cradles its angular beauty. The AK240 can play all of your PCM files, up to a resolution of 24-bit/192kHz, as well as DXD and single- and double-rate DSD, natively, and can do so from its internal storage, from a microSD card, or from your computer via WiFi or a wired connection. It can also function as a DAC or USB-to-TosLink converter. I'm not so sure there's much left wanting.
Everything these days has a computer inside it, but you wouldn't call a car a computer. Same goes for music streamerswhat we at AudioStream.com also call network players. While a network player has a computer inside, I don't consider it a computer because it's designed to do just one thing: play music.
A network player connects to your home network via Ethernet or WiFi, searches for network-attached storage (NAS), looks for the Internet to connect to streaming services, and serves up all of this music through an app that typically resides on a smartphone or tablet. The theory goes that, being purpose built, a dedicated network player should sound better than a full-blown computer, the latter's multitasking abilities degrading its ability to get us to dance, literally or figuratively.
Hi-fi is serious businessat least, for the people whose business is hi-fi. For listeners, among whom I count myself at least some of the time, I'd say that the serious-business aspect of hi-fi is less so. Our sole job, after all, is to enjoy music. The deeper our enjoyment, the richer our experienceand the richer the experience, the deeper our enjoyment. Therein lies the quest: to deepen our enjoyment of music.
Back in the day, I owned a Sony Walkman cassette player. I loved it. I took it everywhere I went, listening to Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Neil Young (with and without Crosby, Stills & Nash), Miles, Coltrane, and more. Having music move around with me seemed a giant step into a more perfect future in which we could color our experiences with sound.
It's not the pale moon that excites me / That thrills and delights me / Oh no, it's just the nearness of you."The Nearness of You," Ned Washington & Hoagy Carmichael
Despite what big-box stores and lossy streaming services want to sell you, listening to music at your desk does not have to suck. In fact, for not a lot of dough, you can easily build a desktop system that'll feed your head with music's goodnessor, for a few grand, assemble a setup that rivals the big rigs. Add the right app and streaming service, and you'll have access to an ever-expanding library of losslessly encoded music on top of the one you already own. The only caveat: Any of these systems will lead to musical distraction, which is a lovely place to be.
Unless something is broken, the bits from your computer will be delivered to your DAC intact; the claim behind three new products I recently listened through is that each can reduce noise within the DACnoise that could otherwise corrupt the analog signal and thus make our music less musical. This notion is not based on audiophool woo-woo, but on the basic electronics of mixed-signal systems: Although its input is digital data, a DAC's output is subject to all the noise problems of analog circuits.
San Pedro, CA-based retailer Audio Summa brought along a bunch of gear from Silverline Audio, Conrad-Johnson, Parasound, Brown Electronic Labs (BEL), Blue Circle Audio, and Analysis Plus. While I was in-room, we listened to the Silverline Audio Bolero Supreme loudspeakers ($12,000/pair standing on the inside in the picture), BEL 1001 MkIV class-A solid-state amplifier (not for sale), a tube-based preamp designed and built by Alan Yun of Silverline Audio ($20,000) and the Ecstasy Model 20 tube CD player also from the mind and hands of Alan Yun ($12,000). Cables were from Analysis Plus and BEL "The Wire."
The sound in the Audio Summa room was fast and a bit furious, leaving little time for decay. "Pace-y" read my notes.
While there was nothing new to report on in the Audio Engine room, at least nothing I could tell you and let you live, it’s always worth reporting on the inexpensive and even better than good-sounding-for-the-money AudioEngine speakers. Our daughters each have a pair of the AudioEngine 2.0s ($199/pair) for use with their iDevices and even they brag about the sound quality.
The Southern California headquarters of cable manufacturer AudioQuest, which includes their offices, a listening room, conference rooms, a very very large warehouse, assembly rooms, a graphic design room, a few kitchens and various and sundry other more mundane but just as important places, is within a few-minutes’ drive from T.H.E. Show at Newport Beach. Shane Buettner, AudioQuest's Director of Education who you will most likely recognize as the former Editor-In-Chief of Home Theater magazine, Joe Harley VP of AudioQuest (Joe Harley is also a recording engineer/producer responsible for among others the Blue Note 45rpm reissues from Music Matters and he's a musician), and Andrew Kissinger, Regional Sales Manager, gave a group of A/V journalists, including Tom Norton, Senior Editor and Video Technical Editor of Home Theater magazine, the full tour.
My comments on the tour/AudioQuest facility can be summed up by saying that this is one of the most organized, clean, neat and tidy places I've ever seen. And it's not the kind of organized, clean, neat and tidy you can fake for a tour. From the huge warehouse to the tiniest Ziplock baggy, everything had its place and label. Impressive.