How Much HiFi is Too Much?

(This is a multipart article)

First System…Living Room

Some of you that know me personally, know that I spent my entire working life in the Stereo/HiFi Consumer industry. I started as a teenage building sound reinforcement speakers for rock and roll bands. From there I did a few years part-time as a sound reinforcement “engineer”…From there I went to Radio Shack for a few years and then a new startup HiFi chain called Nantucket Sound….We built that up to 12 stores and I decided I wanted to own my own HiFi store…..A Co-Worker and I formed a partnership and we bought a Tweeter Etc franchise….A few years later we sold the franchise to the parent company and I took a position as VP Sales and Installation (And just about everything else no one could or wanted to do!). Now I’m retired…..A number of years ago I totally divorced myself from HiFi as I thought many years of rock and roll, motorcycles and firearms had destroyed my ability to hear music properly……I left the industry…..( I took a position in a Hi Tech start-up manufacturing and selling video distribution equipment, both RF and VoIP, ZeeVee Inc…Hey , my hearing might be caput, but I still had good vision!)…..

But then I visited my friend Dave’s house. Dave is a very serious audiophile and has a soundroom and a HiFi system that would blow your mind! I’m sure it costs just about as much as my house! Listening to this amazing system I was shocked AT WHAT I COULD HEAR! Sure, I can’t hear much above 16Khz, but I could hear imaging, sound stage, air around the instruments, vocal nuances, tight defined bass….. Actually, all the sound that really matters in a HiFi system.

That visit did it. I was hooked…Again! I went into the basement and pulled out a set of KEF 103.2 loudspeakers, A Cambridge Audio 840 AZUR integrated amplifier……but I needed a source. Found a highly regarded, good reviewed, Onkyo Integra CDC-3.4 CD player on Craigslist. And my good friend Jeff sold me a B&O RX2 turntable with an MMC5 cartridge……This system sounded great, but my record and CD collection was very thin. I’d given most of it away over the years……

“STREAMING, they said…You need to get into STREAMING your music…” Back in the day, anything that came “over the air” was extreme LowFi. But I wanted to try this new Streaming Music. I bought an Andover Songbird streamer for a whole $150…Bought a subscription to Quobuz and upped my Amazon Prime Music to the new HiRes/HD service…..WOW! This was amazing. Millions of songs at my fingertips and all CD quality or much better!

The Cambridge Audio AZUR was nice, but it didn’t have the sound I was expecting. Jeff (the turntable friend) suggested I might want to try different amplification. He just so happened to have a Yamaha CX-800U preamp and a Yamaha M-45 power amp….Both for a stupid reasonable price….Brought them home and connected the songbird and the KEF 103.2 speakers. Now this was more like it! I think the CA just didn’t have the power to wake up the KEFs….And the Yamaha amplifier can be played in pure class A mode. Blew my mind that I could actually hear a difference! I’m loving this stuff!

Now Corona hits……I’m totally bored being house bound during lockdown. Decided to set up a whole different system down in our living room. The above equipment was in my home office.

Watching tons of YouTube HiFi reviews and reading various forums, I decided to buy an EMOTIVA A100 BasX amplifier and a Chinese tube preamp along with a Schiit MODI 3+ DAC

This system sounded great, but the amp was no improvement over the Yamaha so I took advantage of EMOTIVA’s return policy and sent it back.

The little Chinese tube preamp with the Yamaha power amp was winning the day!

By now I had started to accumulate loudspeakers…..Klipsch RP600Ms that I found on Craigslist for $300 with nice steel stands, a set of B&W DM601 along with a set of home made, beautiful, cabinet matching, mahogany stands for $250 and a set of Magnapan MMG in like new condition with boxes and packing for $450….

I was so impressed by the sound difference of the little tube preamp compared to the solid state Yamaha preamp, that I started looking for a tube power amp.

I bought a Chinese tube poweramp off Amazon. Hooked it up and I was blown away by how great it sounded…But after a couple hours one channel died! Back it went…Too bad because I really liked this amp….

…I needed a project. I’ve always been a nut about Dynaco equipment. I built dozens of amps and preamps for myself and friends. I found a company that had resurrected the whole idea of kit built HiFi….Bob Latino and “Tubes4HiFi”.

He offered a more powerful version of the ST70 called the ST120 with 60w channel. Since Bob was only an hour away from where I live, I drove out and bought a kit from him. Assembled it in a couple days and it worked perfectly from startup……and it sounds absolutely amazing! To me, tubes just sound better!

Here is a bunch of Start Up videos I did during construction:

So let’s move on…..Where am I now in my search for HiFi Nirvana

Let’s start with the main system in our living room.

Another hobby of mine is fine woodworking. Years ago I was offered to buy some African Mahogany boards that were sawn from logs that were in a river in Africa for many, many years. The boards were upwards of 30″ wide and beautiful. I decided to build an entertainment cabinet with them. The side panels are one piece and everything is pegged together.

So, what’s in there? Up at the top is a video 5.1 surround system…Top unit is a cable box, next is a Sony DVD Player and then a Yamaha RXV-377 DSP receiver…Speakers are five BOSE mini speakers from a long ago BOSE Lifestyle system with a Polk subwoofer behind the cabinet. The TV is a Sharp XYZ model. For movies, this system sounds great! But for HiFi, not so much…

Below this is the good stuff:

A bluesound Node2i supplies content

Output from the Node2i goes into a Schiit LOXI four channel EQ

From there into a Schiit FREYA preamplifier.

Next to that is a Schiit MODI 3+ DAC for use when I want to stream from my laptop. I did have the Node2i connected to this DAC, but honestly, I couldn’t hear any difference and the Node2i/ Schiit MODI has a weird pop whenever the song changes and there is a different resolution. (I spoke to Schiit about it and they are aware and “it is what it is”). Great DAC for around $100!

Down below this is a VARIAC to maintain my line voltage at a constant 119V. Where I live it can go up as much as 126V which is not good for a tube amplifier like the VTA ST120 not having onboard voltage regulation.

And next to the variac is a patch panel I built to select 4 ohm or 8 ohm output from the tube amplifier.

The meat of the system is the VTA ST120 amplifier in the custom cabinet I built for it, complete with onboard bias meters, level control and front mounted power switch. (There will be another article on this build at some point)

The amplifier sits on a slide out rack as it gets quite hot and I wanted to give it as much air as possible.

Behind the amplifier is a computer fan. I bet I went through half a dozen fans to find the quietest one I could find. And I have it mounted on four springs so it doesn’t vibrate the cabinet!

So that’s the headend…Speakers? I have a bunch that I rotate in and out as the mood fits…

Magnapan MMG / Kliptch RP600M / B&W DM601 / ELAC 6.5/2.0 / JAMO S803 / KANTO YU6

On order is a pair of KEF LF50 META…..I’m hoping these will be the last speakers I buy….Ya sure!

All speakers are used with a subwoofer. Either a B&W or a SVS as the mood strikes me

The living room is 24 X 12 X 8….Heavily damped with wall to wall carpet and over stuffed furniture, hard ceiling, lots of glass on both short ends….Speakers are placed 6-8′ apart and I’m sitting 10′ away from them….So far, I’m pleased with all the speakers. The most amazing out of the bunch os the little, $200 pair, KANTO YU6……These blow me and my wife away with the imaging, depth of stage, transient response…..But they need a subwoofer in this size room. I’m going to be totally bumbed out if the $1600 KEF LS50 META don’t greatly out perform them!

I made these speaker stands out of scrap wood, filled them with 15 pounds of melted lead!

The above setup is for casual listening or when friends and family are over. For serious listening the speakers are pulled out from the wall about 3 feet.

There you have it. A quick tour of the Living Room system

To follow will be the “Sun Room System”, The “Hobby Room System”, The “Garage System”, and more.

Equipment we will be using and discussing:

Sound Artist SA200ia integrated amplifier

The Arylic A50+ integrated amplifier with built in streamer

The Topping MX3 integrated amplifier

And much much more!

If you have any interest in my other endevours, and want to waste even more of your precious time, visit my full web site..


UPDATE 11-8-21… I spent the two CoVid years building a reasonably priced two channel hifi system. Speaker I bought and audition adinfinada are…Magnapan MMG, KEF 103.2, Klipsch RP600M, B&W DM601, JAMO S801, ELAC 6,0:0.5/2.0, Kanto YU Passive. And a few DIY speakers. This past Saturday I picked up a pair of KEF LS50 Meta…I broke my speakers under $1000 are good enough rule. The reviews and comments on the LS 50 was just so strong I had to see for myself! Long story short, they are simply fantastic! Completely bury all the other contenders. They are so good, my wife, who has absolute zero interest in this hobby, wants a pair for her office. It is the first time in over 30 years of marriage that she actually sat down and listened to music with me! In all my years in the consumer electronics industry, only a few other times have loudspeakers blown me away like this…Large Advents, Dahlquist DQ10, KEF 104.2, Magnapans….

I might have found my “Forever” speaker!

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