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Paul R

Audio Evolution 2013 - Part One. My take on Audiophilia

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ID:	4385I finally admitted to myself how much I hate spending money.

Truly, I make Scrooge McDuck look like a spend thrift. Yet high quality, good sounding, gear costs a lot of money. A conundrum! A rock and a hard place! A Catch-22!

A darned nuisance.

I want the very best sound I can get while spending the least amount of money I can, and ending up with something that I am proud of.

I do not want to:

  • Spend a lot of money
  • Make expensive mistakes
  • Go to extremes
  • Study the subject matter to the point of exhaustion

In other words, I want a fantastic sounding system on the cheap. That means compromise, which is okay with me, as long as I get to choose what I compromise!

So Part One below is a bit of an essay on the way I think about and make decisions for this hobby. It works for me, but as you can see, I donít always get what I wantÖ

1.0 Studying the SubjectClick image for larger version. 

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There is no getting out of studying each consideration of the problem. At least, not if I want to be successful in tis audio endeavor. And if I want to avoid making a regrettable mistake. Worse, an expensive regrettable mistake.

Any audio purchase, upgrade, or change involves a lot of study, and should have as much ear time in testing as can possibly be accomplished before a decision is made. That takes time, effort, and endless backing up and going over the same material time after time. It takes a lot of time actually. And a lot of hard study.

Fortunately, such study does not have to be unpleasant.

Computer Audiophile is very probably the very best place on the planet for a hobbyist to study computer based audio reproduction. Perhaps all other forms of audio reproduction as well. No kidding.

There are people on C.A. who know this stuff cold. And best of all, they are willing to share their experience with pretty much anyone. Imagine world class audio designers, audio engineers, computer/software engineers, and musicians - people from all over the world in fact - willing to listen to you and offer up an opinion.

All for the cost of a little politeness, patience, participation, and respect. How could it get better than that?

Since one can not get out of doing the studying, once might as well enjoy it. There is enough material already stored on C.A. to take a year or more to assimilate. An enjoyable year, yes. But still a lot of time.

Note, that C.A. also provides a comfortable environment for significant others - no porn, no scams, no pressure, and the vendors who participate on C.A. are people anyone would be pleased to deal with.

2.0 Going to Extremes
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ID:	4387 The popular image of an audiophile is someone who always goes to extremes, and to some degree or another, I suppose that image is true. Any hobby worth spending time on demands a little bit os passionate devotion, audio more than some others perhaps. But it hardly an accurate picture of most audiophiles.

Some people however, do like living on the extreme bleeding edge. I admire them for that. From a safe distance.

I donít want to live like that - I like having friends and other interests. For example, I collect Science Fiction and my wife collects several other types of books. But we are not planning on buying another house to store our book collections. Okay, I admit, we did buy this house and turn a room into a library... but that isnít quite going over the edge...

In any case, going to extremes is often a sure fire way to frustrate yourself, as well as go bankrupt. And you still will not ever get the prefect whatever it is you are after. Not the perfect sound, the perfect picture, the perfect reef tank, the perfect garage - not the perfect anything.

Yet, if you donít stretch at least a little, you will never feel a sense of accomplishment, or be rewarding with doing something you didnít think you could do. In the audio world, that means picking and choosing where you stretch. I have some very specific rules about how and where I will stretch.

I wonít compromise our living space to accommodate a business or hobby, not any longer. There was a time where there were more computers in this house than was sane, even for a business. There are still far more than the average household has, but most are stashed away in closet, out of sight, and more importantly, out of earshot too!

I wonít setup a one person listening room either. Listening to music or watching TV with my wife is the main reason the system in the living room exists! Friends are always welcome over too. The only reason I would ever consider doing that is if I were making money off this hobby. In other words, if this turned into a job, and that is unlikely to happen. Not sure I could take the pay cut involved for one thing...

But I have limits about what I will compromise in my hobbies too.

There is never going to be a Bose Wave Radio in here. Nor will I ever put a really big reef tank in here. I also donít intend to keep poisonous octopuses, even if they fascinate me.Click image for larger version. 

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Especially since those rotten little critters like to crawl out of the tank, even past glass lids. (Yikes!) My wife and the cats appreciate those limits...

Going to extremes, in any direction, is not a great way to find peace of mind!

3.0 Expensive Mistakes
So what about avoiding making expensive mistakes? Hah! Might as well try to avoid breathing. Itís going to happen. But you can for sure try to avoid them!

It starts with deciding what you consider expensive of course. I have a friend who breaks into tears over a $10 mistake, and another who considers a $100K mistake as mildly unpleasant.

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Extremes again.

With me, I have a definite scale in terms of audio and computer gear.

  • Up to $100
    Play purchase, I can afford to make one or two of those per month if I really want to without even blinking an eye.
  • Up to $200
    Serious play, I will do these when I am pretty sure the purchase will be something I like or will enjoy a lot.
  • Up to $500
    I will buy audio gear up to this cost based upon specs or recommendations. If it turns out to be a mistake, well, it wonít kill me. I try to limit these to once per quarter though! These hit in my estimation of expensive mistakes.
  • Up to $1000
    Researched, studied, and auditioned if at all possible. I tend to buy this level of gear as a compromise, it will be missing some feature I want. It runs more of a risk of being an ďexpensive mistakeĒ than spending more money, yes. But - it also runs the risk of having a much greater reward if it works out.
  • Up to $2500
    This is the level I reserve for gear I use professionally, such as computers and software. Audio gear in this level for me usually lands with speakers. (Magnepan 1.7s, PSB Synchrony 1bs, etc.) If it is a mistake, then it is a misktake were I can usually recover about half the cost from. Not always, but usually.
  • Above $2500
    It will be researched to death and most likely be a permanent acquisition, at least until it hits 20 years old or better. I still have my original Fat Mac from 1985, which cost well over $5000. It still runs, not ready to give it up.


So the secret for me at least, is to know what limit I am playing in financially. If I stretch outside one of those boundaries, it is always with expectation of great reward.

Think about that for a moment, audio is a passionate hobby, but it is just a hobby. I donít make my living from music or audio. I just preserve my sanity with it. And I do live in the Austin area - the live music capital of the world!

Spending more than I am comfortable with is a rather foolish thing for me to do. Doesnít matter if I can afford it or not.

I consider any hobbyist an audiophile if they strive to get the best possible sound they can within whatever their financial situation and comfort level dictates. People who give up and just buy from the Bose store at the local outlet mall donít qualify in my book. God bless them though, I hope they can still enjoy the music!

You donít have to be an audiophile to enjoy the music, but you do have to be a music lover to be an audiophile. An audiophile, regardless of the level of their equipment, has their enjoyment of the music magnified by their enjoyment of the equipment as well. A definite win-win!

Honestly, I am human too, so a lot of the things I want are well beyond my budget - like that full dCS stack. But honestly? I could buy that dCS stack today. But I would regret doing it, and it would one of those expensive mistakes because of that.

And, in the annoying case where the only thing that can reasonably solve a need or want is a hunk of gear well above my financial comfort level - I do the Texas two step. Save and procrastinate. That hunk of gear might just go on sale! Or better gear that costs less might come out next week! Cultivate patience!

In the meantime, live with lesser gear and still enjoy the music and the equipment!

4.0 Spending a Lot of Money

All that is of course, a lead in to describing the February 2013 evolution of our systems. A lot of thought and experimentation has gone into the system, and a lot of enjoyable listening. Threads started over 18 months ago on C.A. have finally come to fruition... at least at a level where I think it is a good solution at this financial level.
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Have we spent a lot of money, and made a few expensive mistakes? Oh yes, but most of the ďmistakesĒ have been lessons we have enjoyed a lot. So perhaps they were not mistakes at all, just waypoints along the journey.
The funny part, we have wound up with a different system configuration that I ever imagined, and yes, it will continue to evolve and get ever better. In part, the February 2013 configuration costs less than I planned, which makes me a darn site happy.

Continued in Part 2....