An introduction to my system
by, 02-06-2014 at 07:19 AM (2556 Views)
What better way to start off a new blog on Computer Audiophile than to do a quick rundown of the equipment I use to enjoy music. This post will therefore give you a quick introduction to my setup. I apologize in advance if I missed any spelling mistakes. Its not easy being dyslectic.
Having finished my bachelors degree not long ago I decided to swallow my pride and move back in with my parents. House prices in Norway are high, and wages as a kinder garden teacher with a bachelors degree in child protection doesn't exactly rake in much cash. I therefore had the choice between paying ridiculous sums of money to rent a tiny basement, or live at home for a year while saving for my own flat. Pouring money every month into a property that I wouldn't own didn't excite me, so I chose the latter.
As a result of these circumstances I neither have the room, nor the money for a high end system. Actually, let me restate that. I have the money, but a high end system is not as high up a priority as purchasing my own flat. I therefore decided to purchase a system which wouldn't break the bank, but which would still give me the flexibility of adding higher end components in the future. Another consideration was the fact that I'm no longer living alone, and I therefore needed to take into consideration that my music might be considered a nuisance by others. I therefore decided to go for a system based round the use of headphones.
I started out by looking around for some good headphones. I browsed the web, read reviews, purchased a few magazines, and eventually ended up purchasing the Sennheiser Momentum. I'm extremely pleased with this purchase. They give great sound quality, but without being so demanding that I couldn't use them with my mobile phone if I wanted to. They struck the perfect balance between price, quality and portability for my personal needs.
Next up was the DAC. I wanted something relatively small, but still flexible and good quality. I tried out a few different ones and ended up going to Hifi-klubben at Sandvika to purchase the Cambridge Dacmagic Plus. Many told me that the headphone amplifier in it was not the best around, but after listening to it I was quite pleased with the results in combination with my Sennheiser Momentum. That said, I only recently got into music listening, and so I may not have known exactly what to look for while listening. To my ears though, the Cambridge Dacmagic Plus sounded great, so I went ahead and purchased one. A few weeks later the NAD D3020 was announced, and I started to wonder if I'd made a mistake. The NAD D3020 didn't just suite my needs, but it even has an amplifier, which seemed to be getting favorable reviews. All this, and it cost more or less the same as my Dacmagic Plus. Alas, there was no way for me to know that the D3020 was going to be announced, and the Dacmagic Plus does provide me with pleasant sound quality. The added flexibility of the D3020 would have been nice, but I'm still happy with my purchase.
At first I had the Dacmagic connected to my computer at my desk, but this wasn't ideal. I prefer to lay in bed while enjoying my music, so I started to look around for a suitable music source. I considered the Sonos Connect as I already have a Play 5. Bluesound on the other hand seemed like a better choice. It did most of what Sonos could, but with the added benefit of supporting highres music. While my current setup probably couldn't bring out the added detail of highres music, I wanted a system that was flexible. Something I could expand upon in the future. Bluesound supports everything I consider essential in a music streaming system (WiMP, TuneIn and local files) so I decided to go with Bluesound. Hifi-klubben also had a special deal on Bluesound products at the time. 300 kr off the Bluesound node, and 3 months free WiMP hifi (a savings of 597 kr). Seeing as I already use WiMP, and was therefore able to save 597 kr of subscription fees, I ended up paying only 2600 kr for the Bluesound Node. So not only was it more flexible for my own personal needs than a Sonos Connect, it was also cheaper.
I ended up placing the Node behind my CD collection. Don't misunderstand, the Node really is quite a lovely designed device. I would not hesitate to have it on display, unlike the Sonos Connect which in my opinion just looks boring. I simply have it hidden behind the CDs to save space. The stand I have my gear and music on is quite small, so for the time being it will remain hidden. Once I do move, and am able to devote more space to my system, I will gladly have it on display.
I use my Bluesound for three purposes. To stream music from WiMP, stream files from a 1tb external hard drive which is connected to my router, and listen to the radio through TuneIn. So far I'm very pleased with the Node. Sonos still has a slight edge when it comes to the user friendliness of their app, but its still a lot better than many other apps for network streamers that I've seen. The only real issue I have with the Node is the USB input. I have three USB drives, all 2.5 inch drives which rely on the USB connection for power. I've never had issues with any of them, but the Node simply wasn't providing enough electricity to power up the drive. USB flash drives worked fine. I discovered that others had the same problem, and the solution was to either use a powered USB hub, or a USB hard drive which relied on an external power source. As I wanted to avoid more cables and expenses I ended up simply connecting my hard drive to my router, which made the device appear as a network share. So not a major problem, but still annoying. Another limitation that should be taken into account for those purchasing more than one Bluesound product is that music on external drives connected to a Bluesound will only be made available on that particular device. You won't be able to stream it to other devices. So for those planning on using more than one Bluesound device, a NAS or hard drive connected to your router is a must.
Another issue which might, or might not be a problem for some is the lacking number of streaming services currently available. Sonos has a plethora of available services, but the Bluesound is currently limited to five. Qobuz, Rdio, Slacker, TuneIn and WiMP. The lack of Spotify could be a problem for some. Bluesound claim that this is due to the fact that Spotify are rewriting their API, and so they are unable to add support before this work is done. I'm not sure about this though considering the fact that Bluesound has been out for almost a year now. How long does it take to write a new API? That said though, Bluesound are expanding their available services. It took Sonos time to build up their selection, and so I expect that in a years time we'll see a healthy number of services available. I was also very impressed by Bluesounds customer relations. I sent them an email asking them about future services, and they were very quick to assure me that many more were in the works. If you don't rely on Spotify, or you are willing to change to either WiMP or Rdio, I can heartily recommend Bluesound. I was also told by the guy at Hifi-klubben (apparently the staff at Hifi-klubben and Bluesound have quite a close relationship, whatever that means) that a smaller Pulse was in the works to compete with the likes of the Sonos Play 3. So it shouldn't be long before Bluesound becomes a real alternative to Sonos in terms of hardware.
So that's the gear I currently use. Hope I didn't bore you with to many details. For those interested, I intend to do a post soon demonstrating the Bluesound app.