Finding the golden nugget

June 2, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

The sweet flesh of a Bing cherry exists to support that which we throw away. The pit. From the cherry’s perspective, it’s all about the seed. From the eater’s perspective, it’s all about its outer wrapping.

Focusing only on one aspect while ignoring everything else can have consequences.

In our quest for the absolute sound, that golden nugget of musical truth, we sometimes get so entrenched in what we believe to be inviolate that we miss out on possibilities.

For example, if we identify as vinyl-centric or digital-based we sacrifice potential. One brand preferred over another. One type of amplification preferred over the other.

If possible I strive to put musical truth above technology and brand identity.

It isn’t always easy. At times I have to forego my perceived identity in order to try on another.

In your quest for the golden nugget—the absolute musical truth—are you open to new ideas and different means of getting where you hope to go?

It might feel safer to close ourselves into a small predefined box, but I suspect the view is better outside.

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23 comments on “Finding the golden nugget”

  1. I know you’re trying to open our minds, which is a good thing, and my view may be a little off kilter, but my takeaway from today is that now we need two systems, or at least two amplifiers to reach audio nirvana. With amplifiers you’ve got to make a choice, have a preference. Of course there is the hybrid variety which may bring the benefits of both technologies but also has two sets of problems to overcome. So are they the best or worst of both worlds 😉

    I’ll just get back in my box now.

  2. While I always appreciate your views Paul, I don’t feel I “sacrifice potential” because I’m now digital-based…

    As soon as I stopped hearing the inevitable severe compromises of vinyl I was freed to listen to music, pure music, well after finding the limited great recordings that are out there…
    We all know what the limitations are and, no Paul, unlike you I can’t listen through this as you say you can with vinyl.

    Like most folk with limited funds I have to compromise, so I have the best speakers and flagship AVC that I can afford. It uses DACs that you’ve praised and was designed and built by listening to it, by known names that I respect as much as PS Audio.

    So my golden nugget was finding digital sources like CD/SACD that use I2S HDMI audio input with a separate main clock sent to the SACD, high res files like DSD and FLAC plus high bandwidth streaming. Even some BBC live concert radio using 320kbs HLS and TV with Dolby sound. All without the hassle of multiple analogue boxes, using stupidly expensive balanced cables to minimise noise. I get to listen to just pure stereo, multichannel audio that Gus would approve of and amazing pictures too.

    If I could afford it I’d try your power regenerators, though thankfully our U.K. power supplies, where I am at least, is rather good. Like many I’m also interested in your speakers, I certainly respect the design and listening effort you seem to have expended. I still use full range tower speakers and no sub, however, I’m keen to hear what you’ve finally achieved – perhaps another golden nugget…

    1. Hey Allen hope you are well. I do think we have to compromise just because we can’t afford the “high dollar” components. We care enough to buy the very best that we can afford and with proper setup, we get really great sound! I heard the high dollar stuff and some were good and others were not. So don’t under sell what you’ e done/built. Just do one thing here, digital or none, just keep listening!

  3. My opinion. The true audiophile is who enjoys the journey and does not stand in a one “box”, but discovers more, like never ending dreamy space..

  4. So I play records and stream in equal measure, have a hybrid (Classes A and D) amplifier, a tube M/C phono stage, a solid state M/M phono stage and the signal from both is converted to 40/352 PCM (I think). A secondary system is going in, 6 speakers providing immersive sound (in HD stereo), which will horrify most audiophiles, but is fantastic to listen to. I posted something about it in the forum under System Photos a few minutes ago.

    1. Steven,

      Immersive…. Sounds like that’s what Soundmind often talked about in the previous incarnation of this posting site. He was derided and chided by many including you 😉

      Now it’s cool…. Enjoy.

    2. Steven,

      Link to your system?

      (Or, blush, instruction on how to search “HiFi Family System Photos”? My first look at ’em today and it’s a jumble of random to my eyes. . . !)

      Thx, Chaz

  5. I have taken the most common path of steady improvement over the last 50 years of having a stereo system where I personally selected the components. Like most budget usually was the limiting factor in my system. This does not mean I did not explore, embrace and reject new ideas. I remember my first stereo speakers, my first 3 way floor standing speakers, my first CD player, realizing that listening to CD’s was fatiguing, my first SACD player ( no more fatigue ), my first MC cartridge, my first tube amps, my first power regenerator ( a P300, I think I still have it in a closet ) my first direct drive turntable, my Ortofon A95 cartridge ( what a gem ), my first separate DAC ( a DirectStream DAC that now uses Sunlight FW ). I think of these as stepping stones on the path to the system that I have today.

  6. The chase for the absolute sound / golden nugget / musical truth has ended for me. I don’t think the absolute sound will be caught with 2 channel audio and recordings. What is absolute musical truth anyway?

    With a 2 channel system, of my choosing, I get the entertainment I want in the constraints of my living and listening environment. I’m not beholden to any one fixed idea in the 2 channel world, as I can enjoy one recorded playback medium as another. Just like being beholden to tubes or solid state, one can be equally enjoyable as the other to me.

    So if I want change something in my 2 channel system I’m free to do that on my terms. If something new comes along that entices or intrigues me I’ll give it a listen. Being inviolate to some is a blessing, to some a curse….

    Being led around by any one technology, marketing strategy, or someone else’s definition of what I should be after, immediately and instinctively makes me want to rebel.

  7. The absolute sound…that golden nugget of musical truth is found by listening to live music;
    made by musical instruments that are played by musicians.
    Home audio sound is a facsimile of said ‘golden nugget’…a lump of lead, spray painted gold.

    1. “Home audio sound is a facsimile of said ‘golden nugget’…a lump of lead, spray painted gold.”

      Ah yes, how true…It Is all “Fake”! However sometimes if you dig enough (with great synergy of source, eq., transducers and room), the peeled layer of gold paint revels depths of 10K, 14K or even more of pure Gold (not lead)!! 😉

      Ted

  8. tonyplachy said it all. I usually like what I hear what he has to say because we seem to have followed the same path (including two P300’s) over the long haul in many many ways.

    That said, I listen to music four ways… vinyl records, CDs, streaming and live not in that order. To me it doesn’t matter if the cherry or the pit is what we choose it’s the recording process that matters most to me now or the listening environment that needs improvement, lots of improvement. Seems like Paul is working to that end at present but without the highest quality recordings most of the pleasure of immersing myself in the music is gone.

    With the current environment of the music scene right now I’m getting the distinct feeling that what I’m looking for ain’t going to happen. So it’s cherry picking that I turn to in my quest for high-quality audio reproduction because there is no absolute sound…it’s only a myth.

  9. From a chromosome’s perspective, an organism is just a way of making more chromosomes via a SARS-CoV-2 virus* or a California redwood or a human being.

    The golden nugget of musical truth can only be acquired from listening to someone(s) playing music in your general vicinity. All else is facsimile, either from a scratchy, old 45 played on a second (third? fourth?) hand Goodwill record player or an Octave Records SACD played over the souped up Infinity Reference Standard Vs. And Everyone’s golden nugget will be different. So stop obsessing and enjoy the music, however you hear it.

    *Yeah, I know technically a virus is not an organism, still a propagator of genetic code.

  10. How many toys must there be in the toybox? Since my budget is limited, I would rather have one toy of the highest quality yielding the “best sound” than two toys of mediocre quality. No matter what toys I have, I get tired of them. I would even get tired of a live orchestra. Sometimes I get greater pleasure just sitting in the backyard, away from the music room, watching and listening to the birds, squirrels and bunny rabbits play. A different kind of music. (“My yard is alive, with the sound of music!”…LOL)

  11. Hi Paul,

    I don’t understand how people can either declare their systems vinyl oriented or digitally oriented. Right now, I have Volumio and a CD player feeding digital sources to a high end DAC, an Oracle turntable, and a Sony reel-to-reel tape deck. Either I am totally oblivious to the nuances or my system can resolve any format, but I am enjoying whatever format I happen to be listening to. It isn’t necessarily digital or analog, it is just music.

    1. In my experience when both are at a lower quality level or of quite different quality level, they can sound so different in tonality that indeed a non on the fly adjustable chain is mostly optimized towards one of them. The better each gets and the higher the common quality level, the more similar they sound in tonality and the rest of the chain serves both adequately.

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