Twisted Systems

Stairway to Heaven

My friend Ira is a committed audiophile and we seem to make leaps into audio system upgrades based on an almost ping-pong effect of gear that travels between our two listening rooms.

We have the luxury of lots of gear at our disposal and, most importantly, lots of time to evaluate and sit and listen.

Sometimes months can go by as we allow products to settle in, and in which we can critically evaluate a specific product. This kind of real-world use in our respective listening rooms has, at least so far, prevented mistakes which, as most committed audiophiles know, can be very expensive!I have 50 years of gear-buying experience (Ira has about 30) so we’ve gotten to the point where we know, in general, how gear will sound based on the companies that manufacture them.

Our listening rooms couldn’t be more different though.

His is a large and relatively undamped living room and the reverberation does seem to add an energy that does not exist in my room.

My room is smaller, with close boundary walls and a huge rug. I also had QuietRock sound-reducing sheetrock added when the room was being rebuilt during my recent apartment renovation.

The effect of such damping makes my listening room sound more like a recording studio environment and less like your average home listening space.

Jay Jay’s listening room.

This kind of design allows for much more specificity in the soundfield. I’m used to that and I like it.Both effects – the reverberation damping and the soundfield specificity —  have their advantages, assuming that one not only reconciles that this is the way the room and system behavior is going to be, but to also make decisions based on these listening preferences.

I think Ira’s room needs some control.

But regardless of what I think, Ira is pretty happy.

Or is he…

Our systems share certain gear similarities. We use the same company’s preamp and amp, the same SACD player and the same speaker and interconnect cable. Ira’s system is based around CDs but mine also includes vinyl. We don’t use the same power cords and most importantly, we don’t own the same speakers.

What we both do have, however, are very musical systems, not “hi-fi”-sounding systems.

The difference?

If you have ever worked for a high-end audio store like I did, for four years at Lyric HiFi in Manhattan, or ran an audio company (Ira had a speaker company briefly) then you know how to “sell” a product. You learn what sounds best and, more importantly, what can sound “spectacular” in order to make a sale.

However, what can sound “spectacular” may not necessarily be more musical.

A “musical” system, for lack of a better explanation, is a system that just feels right. Like shoes that have broken in to the point where you don’t even know that you are wearing them.

In this world, making gear changes is done very slowly and methodically.

You look at your system and say to yourself…hmm, what one item should I change next to take the system to the next level? Should it be the CD player, turntable, preamp or power amps, speaker cables, acoustic treatment, power conditioning or something else?

You pore over the magazines, you visit an audio store.

Luckily, I can go to Ira’s apartment, he can come to mine, and we can listen, in real-world environments, and make better and more educated decisions.

Ira’s listening room.

Months can go by.

That’s fine with both of us.

The point is: you need to really pay attention to get to what may be the next move to reach your stairway to heaven.

Header image courtesy of Pixabay/Peter H.