I probably have a pretty standard story as far as the evolution of my system goes. I started listening to music seriously back when I was still a teenager, with a Garrard turntable, Realistic amp, and some second-hand homemade speakers with single 15” drivers.
My first ‘big’ rig comprised Acoustat 3’s, Hafler 101 preamp, and Hafler amp, and a Denon DP55k turntable with a Magnepan uni-pivot arm and Talisman S cartridge. I kept that system for a long time, swapping the Haflers for a Plinius 8150 integrated amp.
I was a very late adopter to digital, finding early CDs inferior. Once I did adopt, however, I tended to go for ease of operation and convenience. For a long time, prior to streaming and ripping to hard-drives, I used a Pioneer Elite 300 CD changer. I loved just putting that thing on ‘random’.
Eventually a time came when the Acoustats were getting long in the tooth, even though I’d upgraded the transformers, updated the boxes, and installed silver wire, better quality caps and better resistors. I went with Reference 3a Grand Veena speakers and a single BAT VK5se amp, along with a VPI Classic turntable and Shelter cartridge. I used an Aqvox phono preamp, which had the interesting quality of being a fully balanced design requiring a specifically configured cable. Eventually, I learned to rip CDs to an iPod, using a dock to output lossless digital to a Benchmark DAC.
When we moved to our current house, I had the luxury of adding a ‘man-cave’ over the garage we were building. I did a great deal of research and the result is the room you see in the pics. Its dimensions are 15′ x 21′ x 10′, one of the better ratios for minimizing room modes. The walls and ceiling are tongue-in-groove pine, floors are oak, doors are solid, all walls are 2″x 6″ studs and fully insulated. Floor joists were also doubled in a couple places for rigidity. Electrically, there are 4 dedicated circuits – one on each side wall for power amps, and one each for analog and one for digital. All, of course, on the same leg from the sub-station box in the garage. I’ve been fortunate in that this design is absolutely quiet. I use PS Audio receptacles on these circuits.
As part of this move, a few more upgrades were made. I added a second BAT amp, and bridged the two for mono. I also purchased a fully ModWright-modded Oppo 95 universal player. This player, using 6sn7 tubes, sounded very good—it’s gone now— and became even better when used with the NOS Russian 1578 (the real deal) tubes. Additionally, I added 2 REL B1 subs and a BAT VK52se preamp. A 10-meter Audio Tekne ARC500 is the sole interconnect cable in the system.
At this point, Copper columnist Jim Smith came to set up my system to fullest advantage, and he made this system sound even better. Jim also recommend the addition of Tube Traps in the corners and behind the speakers, and I made homemade traps for the first reflection points.
I lived happily with that system until a couple years ago when, prior to retiring, I wanted to upgrade to my ‘last’ system… (you believe that, right?)
I decided to go pure digital because I feel that it now sounds as good (albeit different, I admit) or even better than analog. That, of course, depends greatly on what gear you are using. And, being lazy, digital is much more convenient.
I settled on the MSB DAC because I wanted the most future proof design I could find at the upper end, and wanted to simplify my system as much as possible. The built in volume control obviated the need for the preamp and a NAS drive replaced the player. Another feature of the MSB is the built in renderer. So at this point, all I have going to the DAC is a single Ethernet cable. I listen to music using the NAS drive for ripped CDs, hi resolution downloads, and Tidal using Linn Kazoo as a control on my iPad (minimserver and bubblepnp on the NAS enable this). MSB are also (by fall, they tell me) adding Roon and MQA support to the renderer. At that point, I’ll add a NUC computer with ROCK, I think, and use the Roon remote.
The rack in the pics is my homemade version of the Arcici suspense rack. The top shelf is suspended on tennis balls, and the lower shelves are suspended below it. On top are the MSB DAC and power supply. Middle shelf holds the Oppo player and DirecTV box. On the bottom are the NAS, and isolation box for the MSB, an HDPlex power supply for the NAS, and a switch for the ‘final inch’ component. I also use an optical network converter just prior to the DAC to get any noise out of the digital feed.
The Vivid G2 Giya speakers are the last addition. They are wired to the mono amps with doubled Cardas 9.5 gauge Litz for the bass and a Synergistic Research Tesla cable for the highs. These bring this system to a level that is as good as I have heard anywhere. I have largely remained true to Jim’s setup, with some minor changes to accommodate the Vivids, of course. I listened to Wilsons and Magicos also, but the Vivids were a pretty easy choice. To me, they have a more ‘alive’ sound and wonderful imaging, and they don’t weight a ton like the other high end choices. Their thorough engineering is very impressive visually and sonically. Even my wife loves them!
Thanks much for featuring a hillbilly stereo nut.